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COMMENT | The fake news ordinance is more draconian than we think

COMMENT | On Thursday last week, March 11, the government published in the gazette the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No 2) Ordinance. The focus of this Ordinance is specifically on fake news in relation to Covid-19 and the proclamation of emergency. It came into force on March 12, 2021.

News of this latest ordinance (hereinafter referred to as the “fake news ordinance”) has obviously drawn comparison with the repealed Anti-Fake News Act 2018, introduced under the BN government in 2018 and repealed under the Pakatan Harapan government in 2020. 

The initial responses to this fake news ordinance have focused on the very unique rationale of the new law, namely to combat fake news not just on Covid-19, which may be understandable, but also on the proclamation of emergency.

Comments have also centred on the lack of precision in the scope of the definition of fake news, as well as the large nature of the penalties. All these are indeed valid and important concerns. However, in my view, there is much more to be concerned about in this piece of emergency-related law. The aim of this article is to highlight 10 things about the fake news ordinance.

1. The fake news ordinance comes under the authority of the minister with responsibility for communications and multimedia, and not the minister with responsibility for law. This is significant because this ordinance has provisions in relation to access to computerised data (Section 19), preservation of traffic data (Section 20) and disclosure of stored traffic data (Section 21). This is a much more technology-focused law. What this means is that the ordinance is far more invasive of an individual’s privacy than previously provided for under the repealed law.

For example, a police officer or an authorised officer under the fake news ordinance may legally demand ... 

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