The government said on Saturday that proposed changes to immigration laws would not affect people's right to enter or leave Hong Kong - after the Bar Association expressed concern that the the new rules would empower officials to bar anyone from leaving the city in future.
Under the proposal announced last month, officials can make new regulations to require airlines to provide information about passengers and aircrew to the Director of Immigration - and bar a person from travelling on the aircraft.
In a submission made on Thursday, the Bar Association said this would grant authorities "an apparently unfettered power" to stop anyone, including Hong Kong residents, from leaving the city.
It also noted that the proposed legislation did not set out the grounds on which such "intrusive power" may be exercised, why such a power is necessary, nor did it provide any safeguards against abuse.
Since the enactment of the National Security Law last year, a number of pro-democracy activists have fled the city, with Hong Kong people also taking advantage of immigration plans offered by foreign countries.
But in a statement on Saturday, the Security Bureau said the Bar Association's remarks failed to correctly reflect the facts and objectives of the proposal, leading to "unnecessary misunderstanding".
It said changes are proposed for Hong Kong to fulfill its obligation under the updated Convention on International Civil Aviation, which now requires airlines to provide passenger and crew member information to the destination city before the flight departs.
The government said the measure has many benefits, such as allowing faster passenger clearance at control points, and could help strengthen its measures to prevent potential non-refoulement claimants from entering Hong Kong.
"The proposed [Advance Passenger Information] system is intended to require the provision of passenger information on flights heading to Hong Kong, rather than departing flights. The right of Hong Kong residents to enter or leave Hong Kong is not affected. The Government will ensure that the operation of the API system will conform with the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights," a spokesman said.
Officials also added that over 90 countries already had the system in place, including European Union member countries, the United States, Canada and Australia.
The bureau said specific operational details would also be set out under subsidiary legislation that would be made later.