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LETTER | Stop pressuring FB, Telegram on user privacy

LETTER | Malaysia’s actions with Facebook, Telegram, other app owners and service providers is raising concerns relating to our right to privacy, including our right to private communication.

The government should not be ‘spying’ on people, and neither should the state be asking service providers or app owners to be monitoring our communications over the internet.

Internet users’ privacy must always be respected and many will just abandon apps where their private communication is being seen by others, including the state.

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) reiterates its call for the immediate repeal of sections 233, 263, 252, 265 and other draconian provisions in the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998. What the minister is trying to do must be by reason of this draconian act.

“The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is strengthening its cooperation with Meta Platforms Inc (Meta) to curb Facebook activities that violate Malaysian laws, Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil said.”

- MalayMail, May 22, 2023.

Is there any other way other than invading the privacy of users and monitoring the contents of communication, that these service providers and app owners can do what Malaysia is asking them to do?

The minister, from Pakatan Harapan that were all for reforms and human rights before the elections, must now clarify what Malaysia is getting Facebook and other service providers to do.

Protect our private communications

The monitoring of any or all communications of all Malaysian users is totally unacceptable.

However, if an internet user makes a police report or a complaint to law enforcement of a crime, then the investigation of the complainant’s communication through which the alleged crime occurred, and maybe even tracking the scammers, online gambling, pornography, etc may be permissible.

But certainly, no ‘spying’ on the communications of everyone all the time or at any time, for whatever reasons and certainly not because Malaysia wants to prevent attempts or crimes that are yet to happen, which may or may not occur in the future.

There may be some support today in Malaysia if it was the monitoring of ministers, politicians, political appointees, and public officers to prevent corruption, power abuse, and such crimes involving Malaysia’s monies. However, Madpet would also be against that.

Laws disrespecting privacy, that enable continuous monitoring to prevent possible future crimes, are unjust

Section 263(2) of the CMA states: A licensee shall, upon written request by the Commission or any other authority, assist the Commission or other authority as far as reasonably necessary in preventing the commission or attempted commission of an offence under any written law of Malaysia or otherwise in enforcing the laws of Malaysia, including, but not limited to, the protection of the public revenue and preservation of national security.

Action after crime committed

Action after a crime is committed is reasonable, but insisting on actions to prevent a crime which may or may not happen through continuous monitoring and actions by service providers or app owners is unacceptable.

Asking these service providers and app owners to suspend the accounts of users because they believe there may be an attempt to commit a crime is also wrong.

If the state has a justification to take action, it must act on its own after giving the alleged perpetrator the right to be heard and getting a court order.

There have been experiences of Facebook accounts being temporarily suspended, but the user is at a loss as to whether it is the action of Facebook, or really the action of Malaysia that got Facebook or other apps/services to do so.

There must be transparency on the part of the Malaysian government, and the government must remember the presumption of innocence until found guilty by a court of law.

So, no to interference, monitoring, suspension, or blocking of accounts of users of any apps used for private communication.

Facebook ‘buckled’ but not Telegram?

Whilst Facebook may have buckled to the Malaysian government’s request, it is good to note that Telegram has not to date.

Minister Fahmi said Telegram has been asked from the outset to tackle these matters “but has refused to do so up to now, so I asked MCMC to study the necessary actions.”

He said MCMC was strengthening its cooperation with Facebook owner Meta to curb activities that violate Malaysian laws.

Madpet urges Facebook and other service providers that will monitor users’ communication to ensure Malaysian laws are not violated to openly disclose the fact to users, so users can make informed decisions as to whether to use the app or service.

Many want their communication to be private even from the prying eyes of the owner and service provider.

Madpet applauds Telegram, service providers, and app owners that have stood strong against government pressure to ensure that the privacy of users’ communication is always protected.

Madpet urges the Malaysian government to stop ‘pressuring’ service providers and app owners to ensure that the users do not violate Malaysian laws.

Stop making service providers and app owners liable for crimes committed by users whilst using these internet communication tools.

Madpet reiterates its call for the immediate repeal of the draconian provisions in the CMA.

Madpet calls for the respect of privacy and urges the government to impose a moratorium on the usage of these draconian provisions pending repeal.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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