Amid reports of an increase in Chinese espionage activities, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday backed a mothballed counterintelligence bill, with lawmakers saying that an oversight mechanism would be introduced to ease concerns that it would give national security agencies too much power and endanger human rights.
New counterintelligence legislation is urgent because all aspects of society — including the military, government and civilian sectors — have been infiltrated by Chinese spies, DDP Legislator Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) said.
According to a national security source, about 5,000 people in Taiwan are spying for China, DPP Legislator Chuang Jui-hsiung (莊瑞雄) said, adding that the nation should be alarmed by this degree of infiltration and support counterintelligence legislation.
Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times
Most espionage activities have targeted the military, but civilian sectors might be vulnerable because civil servants and the public have little awareness of espionage compared with the military, Chuang said.
People should not be deterred from the issue by controversy surrounding a draft counterintelligence act submitted by the Investigation Bureau in January, which the Cabinet rejected due to a perceived potential to allow human rights breaches, DPP Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said.
The draft proposes more severe punishments for security breaches and gives counterintelligence agents “semi-judicial rights” to investigate cases of suspected espionage.
Critics said that the bill would allow the government unchecked powers to censor free speech in the name of national security.
The Cabinet rejected the bill on Thursday last week before the details were released to the media.
“The straw man [rejected draft] has diverted public attention from the real issue, which is what kind of counterintelligence act Taiwan really needs, instead of whether the nation needs a counterintelligence act at all,” Lo said.
The Regulations over Public Security Operations (保防工作作業要點) — an administrative order — are the only legal provisions authorizing counterintelligence operations, he said.
“The absence of a proper counterintelligence act with a higher legal status means intelligence agencies are able to circumvent legislative oversights,” Lo said. “Proper legislation is required to keep their powers in check.”
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) insisted on an overhaul of the existing legal framework, which the Cabinet was unwilling to do, Lo said.
The legislature should draft its own counterintelligence bill to prevent the Cabinet from over-extending its power, Lo said.
The DPP caucus would submit its own counterintelligence bill that would ensure national security, the protection of human rights, legislative oversight and a power balance mechanism, he added.
The bill would also lay the legal groundwork for a crackdown on “fake news,” which is being disseminated to disrupt the government from introducing key policies, such as labor law amendments, pension reform and marriage equality legislation, Chen said.
Separately, the Ministry of the Interior yesterday denied that government agencies have been infiltrated by Chinese spies, saying it has not detected any espionage activity.
Deputy Minister of the Interior Hua Ching-chun (花敬群) said that government agencies have internal control mechanisms for systematic management and monitoring.
“We have not detected signs of infiltration,” Hua said in response to questions at a legislative interpolation session about reported Chinese espionage activities.
The Taipei Times and the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) cited an unnamed national security source as saying that the infiltration of Chinese spies in government agencies has become a severe problem.
Of the 60 Chinese spies arrested over the past 15 years, the majority were discovered to have targeted military facilities, with only six having attempted to infiltrate government agencies.
Additional reporting by CNA
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