Macau in 2018 | Taking security and surveillance up a notch

Macau (MNA) – The increase of powers of the Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, the changes to the National Security Law, as well as updated legislative processes in regards to surveillance, wiretapping and cybersecurity were all topics that dominated local headlines in 2018.

A new Cybersecurity Bill proposal is currently undergoing public consultation until January 24.

Under the new proposal, data from sectors such as water, energy and finance, or any data deemed crucial to the city would be monitored by the Judiciary Police (PJ) for the purposes of public security.

The level of monitoring of data by the PJ attracted some controversy from associations such as the Macau Civil Servants Association (ATFPM), which wrote in a letter that the level of monitoring would be against the tenets set out in Macau’s Basic Law.

Activist Jason Chao also echoed his concerns that such monitoring would be akin to building a framework of ‘mass surveillance.’

A the same time the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association (AIPIM) wrote in a letter that in order to protect privacy, the Cybersecurity Bill should separate digital metadata and access to data content, and also criticised the powers afforded to PJ under the bill, which was seen as focusing on administrative rather than criminal infringements.

PJ representatives such as the Director of the Computer Forensic Division, Chan Si Cheng defended the new law, claiming the Cybersecurity Bill is limited to checking the net flow of information.

The draft law for the Cybersecurity Law was then passed in October at the Legislative Assembly (AL), without escaping criticism from legislators Sulu Sou Ka Hou, Jose Pereira Coutinho and Ng Kuok Cheong for the level of access given to authorities to access private information.

The law could already be implemented in 2019, according to comments from the Secretary for Security.

Closer cooperation

The theme of closer cooperation with practices and interests in Mainland China, together with ‘Smart Policing’, were also recurring themes in 2018, with the Secretary for Security travelling to Beijing in January in order to glean information about smart policing techniques from the Mainland.

Meanwhile, a new proposal by the Macau SAR Government to alter the Judicial Organisational Law to allow only permanently-appointed Chinese judges to preside over cases involving national security drew criticism from the President of the Macau Lawyers Association (AAM), Jorge Neto Valente, who labelled the change as ‘discriminatory.’

In February, Wong Sio Chak announced the finalised legislation defining the structure and functions of the future Civil Protection and Contingency Co-ordination Bureau (DPCCC), a new division for civil protection and rescue operations announced by the MSAR Government in the wake of Typhoon Hato.

(Copyright, Robert A. Martin/Freelance)

In the same month, Mr. Wong also announced his intention to equip security cameras on public security officers, once given the green light of the Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP).

Experts such as Managing Director of OMNIRISC Security (Macau), Ekraj Rai, told Macau News Agency (MNA) that the move was viewed as ‘positive,’ while a former Hong Kong security officer welcomed this measure as a good way to reduce minor disputes.

These cameras were implemented in March.

That same month, Secretary Wong proposed to revise the National Security Law, which is written in Article 23 of the Macau SAR Basic Law in order to reinforce the principle of ‘One Country,’ to treat illicit acts against the State in a ‘special way’ both regarding its content and procedural regulation, thus, ‘filling a legal blank in Macau’s criminal matters in regard to the prevention [of] and fight against illicit activities against the security of the State.’

AAM President Jorge Neto Valente criticised this change as “unnecessary” and that the frequency of changes to the law “damaged the judicial system”, also slamming comments made by head of AL Ho Iat Seng defending the proposal to only allow previously appointed Chinese judges to preside over national security cases.

Ho had made the comments due to what was perceived as the “confidentiality” of information involved in national security cases while he was attending the National People’s Congress ‘Two Sessions’ in Beijing.

In an AL session in May, Secretary for Administration and Justice, Sonia Chan Hoi Fan rebutted the claim that the bill was ‘discriminatory’, once again defending the tenets of ‘One Country’ upheld in Macau Basic Law, a view that was backed by members of the Third Standing Committee during a meeting in July.

The duty of the Macau SAR to uphold the principles of ‘One Country‘ was also defended by Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On, in April, according to a report by Lusa.

In May, a draft law on the nature of interception and the protection of communications during criminal investigations – under study by the Macau Government for five years – and including the practice of wiretapping was completed and also drew criticism.

However, the Secretary for Security had defended that wiretapping practices would only be possible under a court order.

The new bill overseeing Telecommunication Interception and Protection of Legal Systems was passed in September, with Mr. Wong promising that the number of wiretapping cases will be kept private, adding that the courts would oversee the practice, given its independence from public administration.

In October, a claim by Legislator Au Kam San to Chinese newspaper Macao Daily that police had already wiretapped his home illegally in 2009, led  police authorities to file a defamation complaint against him, after the legislator refused to apologise and retract his comments.

In August, the Secretary defended his amendments made to Civil Protection Law, which had concluded its final public consultation session and under new changes, can classify spreading rumours during civil emergencies as a crime that can be criminalised of a jail term of up to three years.

These amendments were criticised by the New Macau Association as being against freedom of speech.

Power play

In August, the Executive Council announced that a new committee to protect national security, chaired by the CE, and comprising of the Secretary for Security, Secretary for Administration and Justice, Director of the Unitary Police Service, heads of both the Offices of the CE and the Secretariat for Security, Director of Legal Affairs Bureau, Director of Judiciary Police (PJ), and consultants (one per office) from the Offices of the CE and the Secretariat for Security.

The CE appointed Au Ieong Kit and Chang Cheong to the National Security Committee as advisors to the Office of the Chief Executive and Mr. Chang as the advisor to the Office of the Secretary for Security respectively in October.

In October, it was also announced that Office of the Secretary for Security, instead of the Secretary for Economy will oversee the Financial Intelligence Office in order to fight transnational crime development and the practice of money laundering.

Legal and Macau SAR Basic Law expert António Katchi told MNA, “This transfer strengthens the Secretary for Security’s power and increases the weight of the Security portfolio itself within the framework of governance.”

AL had also voted mostly in agreement to increase the scope of powers of the Public Security Police Force, granting rights to the PSP to investigate criminal-related activity linked to the administration, public autonomous entities and special concession holders and proposes added duties for the PSP concerning criminal investigations, border control and immigration in October.

Meanwhile, the Public Security Police Force of Macau will upgrade its current information technology support office to a full-fledged Informational Technology Bureau, in order to move toward ‘smart policing’ in October, according to the Executive Council.

What 2019 brings

2019 is expected to bring more implementations of the same themes carried over from 2018, with the Public Security Police Force Bill to be submitted to AL in January 2019.

In addition, the Secretary for Security promises to complete revisions to the Cybersecurity Law in 2019, as well as establish a DNA database which has been in the works since 2012.

The number of security cameras around the city will be increased from the current 820, with 100 of such cameras to be completed with facial recognition and license plate tracking in 2019.