The government Wednesday launched a 45-day public consultation on the drafting of a bill regulating the tapping of telephones during police investigations into criminal cases.
The bill aims to allow the police to tackle ever more sophisticated crimes due to the constant development of telecommunications technology while ensuring higher protection of citizens’ privacy rights.
A press conference about the public consultation was held yesterday at the S. Francisco Barracks. The public consultation will end on November 9. Three public sessions will be held during the consultation period.
Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak, accompanied by several officials under his portfolio, chaired yesterday’s press conference. Wong gave the first speech, after which Judiciary Police (PJ) Director Sit Chong Meng presented the contents of the public consultation document.
According to Sit, telephone tapping by the police is currently regulated by Articles 172 to 175 of the Penal Procedures Code, which came into force in 1997.
In his speech, Wong said that with the more diversified and covert nature of the modem telecommunication technology, it has become increasingly easy for criminals to commit crimes – such as by making use of smartphones. The policy secretary said that the situation has made crimes more complex and “smart”.
Wong said that the current rules for telephone tapping listed in the Penal Procedures Code, which has been in force for over 21 years, are nowadays unable to tackle situations resulting from the constant development of modem telecommunications technology and meet the needs for the police to carry out investigations into ever more complicated and covert crimes, as well as those committed by ever smarter criminals.
Wong said that, consequently, there was a need to amend the current telephone tapping rules.
“With the rapid development of modern telecommunications technology… various kinds of very smart crimes have emerged. At the same time, some kinds of traditional crimes have also been committed in more organised, more concerted and more covert forms due to the modem telecommunications means,” Wong said.
Wong said that when the Macau government proposed amendments to various articles in the Penal Procedures Code in 2013, the security portfolio suggested that the articles concerning telephone tapping by the police in the code also be amended.
Wong said that the government’s legal experts proposed at that time that it would be more appropriate for the government to draft a single law regulating the tapping of telephones by the police, as modem telecommunications technology is rapidly developing, and also because it is inappropriate to frequently amend the Penal Procedures Code as it is one of the major codes of Macau’s legal system.
Wong said that the security portfolio started to carry out tasks for the drafting of legislation on telephone tapping in 2014. Officers of the security portfolio studied the legal systems concerning telephone tapping in countries and regions such as Germany, Japan and Portugal as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan. Eventually, the security portfolio decided to draft a single law on the matter – instead of amending the telephone tapping articles in the Penal Procedures Code, based on opinions collected from the local legal sector and considering the constant development of telecommunications technology.
Wong stressed that the proposed drafting of the bill – formally called Law on Communications Interception and its Protection – is not to create a new legal system, adding that instead the bill aims to improve the existing legal system concerning telephone tapping by proposing more rigorous statutory procedures required for the police to carry out telephone tapping and more specific rules for citizens’ protection of rights.
During the press conference, Sit said that the government was proposing the telephone tapping bill in strict adherence with Article 32 of the Macau Basic Law – which states that “the freedom and privacy of communication of Macau residents shall be protected by law. No department or individual may, on any grounds, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of communication of residents except that the relevant authorities may inspect communications in accordance with the provisions of the law to meet the needs of public security or of investigation into criminal offences.”
The bill proposes that the fundamental contents of the current telephone tapping rules would remain unchanged, Sit said.
According to Sit, one of the rules that the bill proposes to remain unchanged is that the police are allowed to tap telephones only for certain crimes after obtaining formal approval from a judge who believes that tapping a telephone is very important for the officers to be able to collect evidence and discover the truth.
According to the Penal Procedures Code, the kinds of suspected crimes that allow the police to resort to telephone tapping include those that are punishable by more than three years in prison, drug trafficking, crimes involving weapons and explosives, as well as the crimes of libel, intimidation, coercion or intrusion into other people’s private lives via telephone.