Respect privacy; no to monitoring of internet usage in Malaysia

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We, the undersigned organisations and groups, are most concerned that Malaysians may be under constant internet surveillance, which would be an invasion of the right to privacy, all on the basis of action by the government to curb child pornography.

It was reported that the Malaysian police, namely Bukit Aman’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division (D11) principal assistant director Ong Chin Lan, said the new Malaysia Internet Crime Against Children investigation unit (MICAC) would build a “data library” of pornography users and their surfing preferences.

“We will pick up those who visit these sites regularly. We use software that was specially developed to allow us to identify, locate and track visits to porn sites, especially those involving child porn.

“The intelligence we get will be passed on to the Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), so we can obtain the internet users’ details,” she said, adding that those being monitored could be called in for questioning or even arrested from their homes. Internet users who view pornography from the “relative safety” of their mobile phones will not be spared from scrutiny under this system. (Malaysiakini, 9 July 2018).

Right to privacy a human right

Although we are against child pornography, we are opposed to any ongoing monitoring of internet activity or usage of all in Malaysia, which is an invasion of personal privacy.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

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Such monitoring also would mean that all other activity on the internet of individuals could also very easily be monitored including personal communications, visits to websites, sharing of information and even private documents. This could also include privilege communications between a lawyer and a client.

Even in investigations, court orders needed to search and get evidence

It must be pointed out that in criminal procedure, the arrest and/or investigation of a suspect does not automatically allow even for the search of premises, computers, etc without a required search warrant apart from exceptional situations. These warrants are usually issued by a magistrate or a judge, on application by the police and/or enforcement officers.

Likewise, for example under the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Identification Act 2009, the police and enforcement authorities cannot even take intimate samples like blood, urine, semen and other tissue or fluid from a person’s body samples without the written consent of the person from whom the samples are to be taken from. Even for non-intimate samples, like saliva, hair and a sample taken from a nail, the person from which the sample is to be taken has the right to object hence requiring the obligation to obtain a court order.

As such, the idea of ‘secretive’ arbitrarily ongoing monitoring of internet activity/usage of any person, for whatever reason, must be deplored and opposed.

Right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media

It is common knowledge that in Malaysia, the government has in the past denied people access to many online news sites and websites with opinions and news possibly critical of the past administration (and/or their interests) such as even the Wall Street Journal, the Malaysian Insider and Sarawak Report, thus depriving those in Malaysia access to alternative views and news that may be relevant to Malaysians.

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As such, the blocking of access to websites is best not to be done simply through arbitrary administrative decisions or actions; it must require a court order. Website owners and/or those affected should preferably be given the right to be heard before the granting of such court orders, or at worst the ability to challenge and set aside such orders.

The chief of the Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)’s network security, new media monitoring, compliance and advocacy sector, Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek, was recently reported as saying that the commission had blocked 3,781 pornographic websites from 2014 until the end of March. One wonders as to what other websites have been blocked.

Further, a listing of all such websites should be gazetted and made public, possibly also with brief reasons as to why such actions were taken. The right to challenge or judicially review the orders to block access to any websites should be available not just to owners, but also to users.

The right to privacy is sacrosanct and must always be respected, as such the ongoing ‘spying’ of internet usage cannot be tolerated.

Police investigations of suspects of a crime may warrant the perusal of one’s computers and/or smartphone usage and records, but that too should be only after a relevant court order is applied for and obtained.

Therefore, we the undersigned organisations and groups, call for an immediate halt on all ongoing ‘spying’ of internet usage and online activities by the police and/or the government including the MICAC investigation unit allegedly to detect, locate and record data of traffic for online pornography.

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Whatsoever “data library” of pornography users and their surfing preferences and/or any other such data that now exist, as developed by the MICAC and/or any other government agencies, must immediately be erased and must never be used for whatever reason against any person.

The government must respect and protect a person’s right to privacy, including one’s personal internet and online usage and communications. Any such invasion or interference of privacy must never be permitted or tolerated for whatever reason, more so such arbitrary ‘spying’ and keeping of records of internet activity of everyone – not simply just a few investigated suspects.

Likewise, the right to information and other views online should also not be arbitrarily denied or suppressed by the government. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This clearly includes the right to seek and receive information and ideas online from websites or via the internet from all over the world.

Charles Hector released this statement on behalf of the 13 groups and organisations listed below:

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility (MPSR)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor, Malaysia
Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (Pahra)
Programme Against Custodial Torture and Impunity (PACTI), India
Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC)
Odhikar, Bangladesh
Parti Rakyat Malaysiav(PRM)
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manchav (Masum), India
Committee for Asian Women (CAW)
Centrak, Cambodia
Workers Hub For Change (WH4C)
Hak Association, Timor-Leste
North South Initiative

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