LCQ6: Prevent leakage of confidential information of ICAC

Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      Following is a question by Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a  reply by Acting Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (November 29):

     Some members ofa political party held a press conference in July last year, claiming that they had received information from some very senior personnel of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (“ICAC”) and they had been informed by three insiders of ICAC that the personnel appointment for a senior post in ICAC had something to do with an investigation being conducted by ICAC at that time.  Recently, one member from that political party told the press that during the period after the completion of the first trial of a case involving a former Chief Executive and before the start of the retrial of that case, ICAC had invited a banker to give statement in connection with that case but the invitation was declined.  Some members of the public have relayed to me that in order to protect the reputation of those under investigation and in compliance with the confidentiality requirements, ICAC will not openly comment on individual cases, making it difficult for them to judge whether the remarks made by such political party members are true or not.  They are therefore worried that such remarks may in the long run undermine public confidence in ICAC’s adherence to the principle of confidentiality when conducting investigations.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

     (1)   given that section 30(1) of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance provides that any person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, discloses the identity of the person under investigation for suspected commission of the bribery crimes under the Ordinance or details of such investigation shall be guilty of an offence, of the respective numbers of prosecutions and convictions involving this section in each of the past three years; whether there has been an upward trend in the number of such cases in recent years; if so, whether counter-measures have been formulated;

     (2)   whether ICAC reviewed its internal confidentiality procedure in the past three years to step up prevention of information leakage; if so, of the details, including the measures adopted to raise the awareness of ICAC staff so as to avoid their disclosure of confidential information on the investigations; and

     (3)   whether it has assessed if the relevant provisions of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance prohibit the disclosure by any person of ICAC’s internal information containing confidential information; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the affirmative, of the number and details of prosecutions instituted in the past three years; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, the measures to be put in place to prevent any person from disclosure of ICAC’s internal information, which will undermine public confidence in ICAC’s adherence to the principle of confidentiality when conducting investigations?
     The Independent Commission Against Corruption (“ICAC”) has all along been aware of the high public expectation on the integrity and conduct of its officers.   In particular, public confidence is anchored on the rigorous security procedures of handling any data relating to complaints and investigations or other confidential information.  Therefore, ICAC attaches great importance to establishing a clear and reliable information security system which can effectively safeguard the secrecy and security of all confidential information and data through management, investigator training as well as internal investigation and monitoring.

     Regarding internal management, ICAC has been observing the “need to know” principle, i.e. all the confidential information will only be made available to officers who need it for discharging their duties.  Besides, a well-defined system is in place in respect of the declaration and avoidance of conflict of interests.  These mutually complementary measures ensure that all the confidential information will only be released and used where necessary and appropriate.

     In terms of staff training, every ICAC investigator is required to familiarise himself/herself with all relevant legislation, internal rules and operational guidelines during the induction programmes, including section 30 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (“POBO”) about the offence to disclose information such as the persons being investigated, and the rules, guidelines and requirements about integrity, conduct and information confidentiality that ICAC officers have to follow under the Commission Standing Orders, as well as the possible disciplinary or criminal responsibilities to bear as a result of non-compliance.  Serving officers at different ranks will also undergo various training programmes to refresh their knowledge.

     In respect of internal investigation and monitoring, ICAC’s independent Internal Investigation and Monitoring Group (“IIMG”) will handle complaints against its officers for suspected improper disclosure of confidential information.  For cases involving breach of section 30 of POBO, the IIMG will conduct criminal investigation in accordance with the law and the established procedures, seek legal advice from the Department of Justice and report its findings to the independent Operations Review Committee.  As for non-criminal complaints of breaching the internal code of conduct or operational rules, the IIMG will conduct disciplinary investigation and report its findings to the independent ICAC Complaints Committee.

     While the above measures and regime have always been effective, ICAC is fully committed to the unchanging pledge that it has made to the community and the general public of Hong Kong i.e.

to keep information relating to complaints and investigation in strict confidence.  We hope that all sectors of our community will continue to trust ICAC and support its work.

     My consolidated reply to the three parts of the question raised by Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat is set out below.

     Section 30 of POBO provides that any person who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, discloses to the public the identity of the subject person of investigation or the fact that the subject person is so subject or any details of such investigation, shall be guilty of an offence.  POBO also prescribes the conditions under which the disclosure mentioned above shall not be an offence or shall be regarded as having a reasonable excuse.  It should be noted that POBO governs everyone, including members of the public and ICAC officers. 

     A total of five persons were prosecuted for breach of section 30 of POBO over the past three years (from January 2015 to October 2017).  The cases involving three defendants prosecuted in 2017 are still sub judice, while the remaining two persons have been convicted and placed under community service orders.  Although such kind of cases was taken to court occasionally, there is no notable upward or downward trend as their number is not large.  ICAC will pay close attention to related development to decide whether adjustments to investigation strategies and measures are needed.

     While ICAC does not publicly comment on the views of individuals or individual cases, it will handle in strict accordance with the law any case which is suspected to be against the law or regulations, in order to reinforce public confidence in ICAC’s investigation.

     As mentioned above, ICAC has always maintained its investigators’ alertness to the principle of confidentiality and relevant issues via measures in three aspects, i.e. management, staff training as well as investigation and monitoring.  ICAC investigators are very careful and rigorous in complying with the relevant rules when handling various kinds of confidential information.  The system is well tested over time and proves to be effective in practice.  Nevertheless, ICAC will keep a close watch on the needs for adjusting the existing regime and measures in a bid to move with the times and pursue excellence. Thank you.

Published on: 2017-11-29

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