Evidence Act, censorship, control issues and other #facepalms
By A. Asohan June 6, 2012
- Government yet to show it understands the Net
- Signs of desperation and doom all over
I AM in one of those moods. The idiocy and hypocrisy, though sometimes admittedly merely a poor understanding, from various quarters on certain key issues have just swirled around and collected neatly in front of me.
I feel like I am drowning in the excesses and eructation of the worst parts of the human race. And when I say “worst parts,” I mean government. And not just ours either.
Okay, let’s dial down on the drama and think local. First, there is the second amendment to the Evidence Act, which has been passed by Parliament but which has not been gazetted yet. It is probably the first law anywhere in the modern world, outside of those laws cooked up in tinpot-dictator-run regimes, which puts the onus of proof on the accused.
Yes, this is a law that says you are guilty unless you can prove you are innocent, turning the justice system, as practiced anywhere in the world, on its head. We’re certainly going to put the country on the map with this.
Hey, remember the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project that was supposed to catapult the country into the Information Age? We might as well erase it from our maps and national blueprints.
The rationale for this ground-breaking, earthshaking and MSC-killing piece of legislation?
Apparently because it has been so been gosh-darned hard to convict anyone accused of online defamation or sedition. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, while winding up the Bill in Parliament on April 18, had said that the use of pseudonyms and anonymity by any party to commit cybercrimes made it difficult for action to be taken against them.
Now, before you go “so what?” keep in mind that online defamation hasn’t been aimed only at political figures (“Bah, they deserve it”) but also everyday people like you and me. Lives and reputations can be destroyed by such wild accusations.
My heart goes out to the innocent victims of such hate crime, whether they are perpetrated online or offline. But a bad law isn’t going to change things.
More dastardly than murder
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) chairman Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi told The Star that with the amendment, “at least now, a flat denial (from the accused) cannot work anymore.”
He also told the English daily that even with the amendment, the accused “could easily rebut charges against them if they were innocent. For example, if you can produce witnesses to say that you were nowhere near your computer or any other communicating device at the time the message was sent out, you can get off.”
He told Al-Jazeera pretty much the same thing, that saying “it wasn’t me” now won’t be sufficient, they have to prove it.
So, let me get this right. An alibi and a “not guilty” plea are still part of the legal process in murder trials, but we want to remove these options from online defamation. Because online defamation is a worse crime, is it?
In such a trial, the prosecution would still have to prove it, not the accused. And on the issues of an alibi, it is always accepted with caution, or in legal-speak, “lies under a great and general prejudice.” It is not a defense per se. Not even in a murder trial.
If so many accused in online defamation and sedition cases have been getting off scot-free with such tenuous defenses, then the MCMC’s Sharil should be questioning the competence and skills of those involved in law enforcement, prosecution and the judiciary as a whole.
The Government would also do better to introduce new training programs for the less Internet-savvy in these roles.
Concerned citizens have started a Facebook page 1Million Malaysians against Evidence (Amendment) (No2) Act 2012 and an online petition Netizens against Evidence (Amendment) (No2) Act 2012. Be a patriot. Love your country. Like the first and sign the second.
Then on Sunday, Malaysia’s former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad changed his mind about this whole Internet thing and called for greater regulation, hinting at the need for censorship.
Yes, the same leader behind the MSC and the one who had guaranteed in the late 1990s that Malaysia would never censor the Internet, a promise he even reiterated as late as last year. In an interview with The New Sunday Times, he backtracked.
“When I said there should be no censorship of the Internet, I really did not realise the power of the Internet, the power to undermine moral values, the power to create problems and agitate people,” he was quoted as saying.
“Now it is so porous that we cannot prevent all this filth from coming into our country.”
By filth, I hope he means pornography and not, you know, people with liberal and democratic views; or views that differ from those being propounded and driven into our heads and hearts by the propaganda machinery that we call education and the mass media here in Malaysia.
His call was also taken up by Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim, a sure sign that the general election is coming and that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition still hasn’t figured out how to control the Internet and how it seems to draw those pesky people who can think for themselves.
The “cyberworld should now be subjected to perusal by society,” he told a press conference. He cited cheating, gambling, phishing for particulars and spreading pornography on the Internet as criminal offences and “therefore to disregard this purely for sake of freedom on the Internet is not a true thing.”
I call BS on this. The Internet has ALWAYS been subject to society’s perusal and scrutiny even. If he doesn’t know this, then perhaps the “information and communications” part should be struck from his portfolio.
It just hasn’t been under government control, that’s all.
And all the same laws that handle all those crimes he mentioned above apply just as well to the online world, and can be enforced. What you don’t need are special laws to handle the Internet, you just need people to be specially trained.
Let’s face it: Government still doesn’t grok it.
Da intraweb is bad
But I am not going to pick on the Malaysian Government alone. Let’s go all the way, to the United Nations in fact. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an arm of the UN, has a plan to take over the management of the Internet. This plan will be debated by member nations at a meeting in Dubai in December.
“The rationale for the ITU’s move seems to be that because the Internet is a global entity, it should be managed according to global standards,” it was reported.
The secretary-general of the ITU, Hamadoun Touré, told Vanity Fair that “[w]hen an invention becomes used by billions across the world, it no longer remains the sole property of one nation, however powerful that nation might be.”
See, this stuff is just too dangerous to be left to the hands of something like ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers), a private, US-based nonprofit organization.
We should trust government to it.
ICANN founding member Vinton Cerf, also known as the “Father of the Internet” and currently vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google, recently testified before the US House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee on Internet Governance and the ITU.
He said that “the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance and technical management has been, and will continue to be, the best way to address the technical and policy issues facing the Internet globally.”
“The greatest strength of the current system of Internet governance is its meritocratic democracy. Anyone who cares can voice ideas and opinions, but the ultimate decisions are governed by broad consensus. It might not always be the most convenient of systems, but it’s the fairest, safest, and historically most effective way to ensure that good ideas win out and bad ideas die,” he said.
It must also be noted that amongst the member nations supporting the move to bring the Internet under ITU control are beacons of democracy like China and Russia.
Yeah, we should leave government to it – the same institution that created and let loose malware into the wild.
The New York Times recently reported that the Stuxnet virus was actually created by the US Government (initiated by the Bush Administration and accelerated under the Obama Administration) and Israel to strike against Iran’s nuclear program. In true Skynet fashion, they lost control and the virus – considered one of the most devastating and destructive in history – escaped.
Yeah, trust government. It knows best.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been fond of leaving nearly all aspects of all of our lives to the mercy of institutionalized and untrammeled greed – oops, sorry, capitalism. The US sub-prime loan debacle and still on-going global financial crisis are strong arguments for some form of oversight of the free market.
Try guidance, not control; governance, not government.