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II. Surveillance policy

In August 2006, the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance was passed to regulate the interception of communications and surveillance activities by law enforcement agencies.1 The law creates an oversight board, chaired by a judge, who may inspect and review law enforcement interception requests.

Before the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance came into force, the Telecommunications Ordinance2 and the Post Office Ordinance3 regulated the interception of communications. At that time, wiretapping required authorisation from the highest levels of government, but a court-issued warrant was not required. The Hong Kong government refused to reveal how often the Chief Executive had used his powers to authorise telephone wiretaps and interception of private mail.4 In 1999, an unofficial report estimated that the HKSAR government intercepted more than 100 conversations of private individuals per day.5

Hong Kong's anti-terrorism efforts since September 11, 2001, have largely focused on improved financial tracking.6 The United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Ordinance was enacted in July 2002, and amended in 2004, to give full measures to the Unites Nations Security Council Resolution 1372.7 It allowed the government to unilaterally declare a person a terrorist, limiting the courts to serving as an appeal channel. However, legislators have said the government should go through the courts first as a way to minimise the risk that people will be wrongly labelled terrorists.

In September 2002, the Hong Kong Government signed a declaration with the United States Customs Service to facilitate the exchange of airline passenger information and increase surveillance of shipping traffic.8 The government has also signed similar agreements with other South-East Asian nations.


  • 1. Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance, Cap 589.
  • 2. Section 33 Telecommunications Ordinance, Chapter 106. Now amended in accordance with the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance.
  • 3. Post Office Ordinance, Chapter 98, s. 13, now repealed by the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance.
  • 4. US State Department Human Rights Report 2001   Hong Kong.
  • 5. "Phone Tap Figures to Remain Secret," South China Morning Post, October 1, 1998.
  • 6. News release, "Hong Kong Security Chief Details Anti-terrorism Efforts," Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, May 14, 2002, available at
  • 7. Laws of Hong Kong, Cap. 575.  See Panel on Security, Background brief prepared by the Legislative Council Secretariat for the meeting on 2 December 2008, Anti-terrorism legislation LC Paper No. CB(2)347/08-09(08)Ref : CB2/PL/SE at
  • 8. "Chinese Spokeswoman Says Beijing Backs Hong Kong's Anti-terrorism Efforts," Xinhua News Agency, September 26, 2002.