Making a Case for Cyberlaws

(An excerpt from the Interview between Shom -the reporter, with me as published in The Star Daily, 6 October 2005)

WHAT prevents people from driving recklessly, forging signatures, breaking into homes, kidnapping or stealing? Ideally, conscience should be enough but it’s more likely because people don’t want to pay the penalties for these crimes. And thanks to law enforcement, people are compelled to conduct themselves properly so the rest of us can go about our daily affairs with peace of mind.

 

So, if laws are essential to communities in the conventional world, what of the Internet – a networked world in which more and more of us dwell in each day?

 

“It is a myth that cyberlaws are ‘high profile’ legal matters that concern only techies, computer scientists and information security professionals,” said Sonny Zulhuda, a cyberlaws researcher at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM).

 

“In fact, cyberlaws deal with very practical and daily life matters such as our data, creativity, privacy, PCs, mobile phones as well as online activities that most of us indulge in, like chatting,” he says.

 

There have always been arguments about regulating the Internet.

 

Advocates say it stifles creativity and goes against the very ideals of the Internet especially in terms of freedom of expression.

 

“I believe the debate is no longer if these laws or regulations are needed but instead it is about who and how to regulate. Cyberspace needs to be regulated,” he says.

 

“For individual netizens, one should understand that cyberspace is no different from the space you live in.

 

“In this sense, I think the term cyber-neighbourhood’ is more useful,” says Sonny.

 

“If we do not condone criminals in our conventional neighbourhoods, then why not do the same in our online environment?”

If that is the case, what can netizens do to prevent cybercrimes?

 

“Awareness at minimum level should become our collective priority now. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for anyone to infringe or injure others,” says Sonny.

 

In many countries, including Malaysia, the law is slowly gaining gravity in the virtual realm, in spite of much resistance from idealists who believe in a free, unregulated Internet.

 

The Malaysian Government was among the first in South-East Asia to create and adopt cyberlaws. Cyberlaws have existed in Malaysia since 1997 with the passing of three acts – the Computer Crimes Act 1997 (CCA), the Digital Signature Act 1997 (DSA) and the Telemedicine Act 1997. The CCA deals largely with offences related to misuse of computers, such as hacking, while the DSA helps to enable e-commerce by regulating the use of digital signatures in online transactions. The Telemedicine Act has yet to be enforced. Another law, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) was passed and came into effect in 1999.

 

In line with it, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) was established to implement provisions of the CMA, which include licensing and a self-regulatory framework for licensed members, comprising players from the multimedia and content industries.

Several traditional laws have also been revised or amended address cybercrimes.

 

For instance, the Evidence Act 1950 has been amended several times since 1994 to adapt to the needs of the online environment. In 1999, the Copyright Act 1997 was amended to the effect that unauthorised transmission of copyright works over the Internet is considered infringement of copyright. Other laws, which may apply online as well, include the Internal Security Act 1960, Defamation Act 1957, Sedition Act 1948 and the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2001.

 

The Government is also in the process of finalising three new laws – the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, the Electronic Transaction (ETA) Bill and the Electronic Government Bill. Of great interest to the public, particularly consumers, is the PDP Act which will regulate the collection, possession, processing and the use of personal data.

 

Leave the details to the lawyers, but there are some basics that every netizen should be aware about cyberlaws.

 

Deepak Pillai, a lawyer who practices cyberlaw, explains: “For instance, a person wrote on a piece of paper ‘I took drugs’. Another person told a friend ‘I took drugs’ while a third wrote on his website ‘I took drugs.’

 

“Legally speaking, all three could be charged in court for using drugs, subject of course to the police fulfilling the relevant evidentiary requirements.”

Indeed, it is a common misconception among the public that the Internet is a legal vacuum.

 

“Cyberlaws are essentially created to fill the gaps in existing laws to address new types of activities made possible by the advancement of technology.”

 

Deepak finds it disconcerting that many people unwisely reveal information about themselves online especially via weblogs or blogs.

“Internet users should understand that whatever they say or do on the Internet may be admissible in court and as such, may be the basis of a legal action against them.

 

“Therefore, don’t simply publish your personal history online if you don’t want it to be used against you.”

 

“The bottom line is: Whatever is illegal in the real world, is also illegal online.” – SHOM TEOH

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