Netizens v the Government

2012 saw the intensified battle between netizens and the authorities. The former desires protection of their right to freedom of expression and anonymity whereas the latter desires control and governance. Through this battle, the authorities introduced many new legislations to govern the use of internet.

In July 2012, the Malaysian Government enforced s. 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 (114A). Under 114A, a person is deemed to be a publisher of a content if it originates from his or her website, registered networks or data processing device of an internet user unless he or she proves the contrary. This new law sparked a massive online protest dubbed the Malaysia Internet Black Out Day or also the Stop114A. Protesters replaced their Facebook and Twitter profile picture with the Stop114A banner whereas website operators displayed the Stop114A banner on their websites. Within two days, the Stop114A Facebook gained 43,000 likes from 400 likes (currently 49,000). It is probably one of Malaysia’s most successful online campaigns.

On the business side, the Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry of Malaysia (Pikom), who represents the information and communications technology (ICT) industry in Malaysia, backed calls for a review of 114A whereas the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) has expressed concerns over the recent inclusion of 114A and its impact on businesses.

Interestingly, the Malaysian Government passed the Cyber Centre and Cyber Cafe (Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur) Rules 2012 and Consumer Protection (Electronic Trade Transactions) Regulations 2012. The former requires any person operating a cybercafé and cyber centre to maintain a customer entry record and a record of computer usage for each computer whereas the latter requires online business owners and operators to provide their full details, terms of conditions of sale, rectification of errors and maintenance of records.

Philippines netizens also protested against their newly introduced cyberlaw. In October 2012, Philippines passed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 with the aim to prevent cybersex, online child pornography, identity theft and spamming. However, under the new act, a person found guilty of libellous comments online, including comments made on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter or blogs, could be fined or jailed. In protest against the new law, anonymous activists hacked into government websites, journalists have held rallies and many Facebook users have replaced their profile picture with a black screen. Protesters say the new law could be used to target government critics and crack down on freedom of speech.

Japan netizens on the other hand had milder protest against a new law that makes Japan-based internet users who download copyright infringing files. Violators will face up to two years in prison or fines of up to two million yen. In July 2012, about 80 masked people, calling themselves allies of the global hacker group Anonymous, picked up litter in Tokyo Saturday as a sign of protest.

In early 2012, China required users of the popular microblogging platform, Weibo, to register their real names. Subsequently, later in the year, China legalized the deletion of posts or pages which are deemed to contain “illegal” information and required service providers to hand over such information to the authorities for punishment.

On a brighter note, the South Korean Constitutional Court ruled that a law requiring South Koreans to use their real names on Internet forums was unconstitutional. The Court said that the requirement amounts to prior censorship and violated citizens’ privacy.

In the United States, a handful of US states, including Illinois, California and Maryland, passed laws making it illegal for employers to ask for potential employees’ Facebook or other social media passwords.

A person who retweets a defamatory tweet is potentially liable for defamation. In the UK, Lord McAlpine (Robert Alistair McAlpine) a former politician who worked for Margaret Thatcher, announced his intention to pursue action against 10,000 Twitter users for defamation including those who had retweeted the defamatory tweets. In this case, Lord Alphine was linked by some social media users after BBC News reported that a senior politician was involved child sex abuse. Interestingly, these users may apologize to Lord McAlphine by completing a form downloadable from his solicitors’ website!

In the UK, it is an offence to publish the identity of victims of certain offences which include rape. Footballer Ched Evans was convicted by the Court for rape of a 19 years old woman. The woman’s name was circulated on social networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook, after Evans’ conviction. 9 people were fined after admitting to revealing online the identity of the woman.

Meanwhile back home, the Kota Kinabalu High Court overturned Rutinin Bin Suhaimin’s acquittal for posting an “annoying” comment on the Sultan of Perak’s website. Rutinin was charged under s. 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. The Sessions Court had earlier acquitted him without calling for his defence because, among others, the prosecution failed to prove that Rutinin was the person who posted the insulting comment. The Court held that, although 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 is not applicable because the alleged offending act was committed before the enforcement date of 114A, the circumstantial evidence is sufficiently strong to conclude that the accused had used the internet account that was registered in his name at the material time.

The developments in 2012 show the involvement of the authorities in clamping down the notion of the Internet being the Wild, Wild West. However, such clap down must be monitored by netizens.

In December 2012, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) brought together regulators from around the world to re-negotiate a decades-old communications treaty. Google and 1000 over organizations around the world claimed that some governments want to use the closed-door meeting to increase censorship and regulate the Internet and had started an online campaign.

At the end of the closed-door meeting, 89 countries including Malaysia signed the treaty, while 55 countries said they would not sign or that additional review was needed.

With the new technology, websites and novel functions, all Governments will have to step out their game to protect the rights of netizens and businesses. New laws must not be onerous but in the same time protect victims of cybercrimes and preserve the right of freedom of expression.



This article was supposed to be published in the Putik Lada of The Star Newspaper. It was also supposed to be the 2013 installation of my yearly social media update articles. Unfortunately, The Star Newspaper discontinued the Putik Lada column before my article could be published.

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