Communications and Multimedia Act 1998

Bread & Kaya: Sharing images of crime victims

Bread & Kaya: Sharing images of crime victims

Nov 01, 2013

– No doubt the dissemination of gruesome images is distasteful and disrespectful of victims and their families
– However, when the MCMC cited legislation against it, the industry regulator may have been stretching it

Bread & Kaya by Foong Cheng Leong

IT was with great interest that I read the following Facebook posting by industry regulator the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC):

Assalamu’alaikum dan Selamat Sejahtera,

Orang ramai dinasihatkan untuk tidak menyebarkan gambar dan rakaman CCTV pembunuhan kejam seorang pegawai bank atau gambar-gambar mangsa di mana-mana media sosial seperti Facebook dan Whatsapp .

Jika anda telah berbuat demikian sila padamkan post tersebut. Ini adalah untuk menghormati mangsa dan keluarga beliau. Ia mungkin juga mengakibatkan gangguan emosi kepada orang ramai terutamanya kanak-kanak.

Kami telah pun meminta kerjasama YouTube untuk mengeluarkan video berkenaan dengan seberapa segera.

Untuk makluman, penyebaran gambar dan video sebegini adalah suatu kesalahan di bawah Seksyen 211 dan 233 Akta Komunikasi dan Multimedia 1998. Jika didapati bersalah, denda yang dikenakan tidak melebihi RM50,000 dan satu tahun penjara atau kedua-duanya sekali.

Sekian, terima kasih

In brief, the MCMC stated that the dissemination of gruesome images or video recordings of crime victims is an offence under the ss. 211 and 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA). Reference was made to the CCTV recording of the deadly shooting of Ambank officer Norazita Abu Talib.

There is no doubt that the dissemination of such gruesome recordings and images is distasteful and disrespectful of the victim and her family. But for the MCMC to state that it is an offence under ss.211 and 233 of the CMA is stretching the applicability of these laws too far.

For there to be an offence under s. 233 of the CMA, the case of PP v Rutinin Bin Suhaimin has clearly set out that the following ingredients must be proven:

– The accused person initiated the communication in question.
– The communication in question is either indecent, obscene, false, menacing, or offensive in character; and
– The accused had intention to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person.

Section 211 of the CMA is similar to s. 233 of the CMA.

A person who posted the offensive materials must have the intention to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person. I doubt the people who have shared such images or recording had such intentions. Perhaps bloggers or portals that had done so had the intention to gain more visitors. Or perhaps some netizens share them to satisfy the morbid curiosities of other netizens.

But certainly this is not an intention to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person.

In short, the dissemination of gruesome recording and images is not an offence under ss.211 and 233 of the CMA unless it was disseminated with an intention to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person.

No doubt it is a calamity to have images of your late loved ones being disseminated online; but there are other laws to govern the dissemination of such information. Section 292 of the Penal Code makes it an offence to disseminate obscene material. The person who caused the leak of gruesome image (e.g. autopsy pictures) could be subject to a civil suit for negligence.

Even the soon-to-be introduced law s. 203A of the Penal Code, which punishes, among others, a civil servant for disclosing information obtained by him in his performance of his functions with a fine of not more than RM1 million (US$317,000), or imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or both.

However, I do not think that Parliament should introduce a law to curb the dissemination of gruesome recording of victims, especially if there are benefits of doing so. For example, for education purposes (e.g. study of forensic science) or even to highlight the extent of injuries suffered by inmates due to alleged police brutality.

The purpose of this article is not to justify the dissemination of gruesome images or videos but to highlight the extent of our laws. The MCMC should ensure that its statement, in particular, the last paragraph, is accurate and not leave room for misinterpretation.


First published on Digital News Asia on 16 August 2013

GE13: Online campaigns get nasty

I was quoted by The Star in their article “GE13: Online campaigns get nasty” on 12 April 2013.



PETALING JAYA: Online campaigning has gone nasty in the run-up to the May 5 general election with cyber troopers from both sides of the political divide going beyond mudslinging at times.

The fight tends to get ugly with vulgar words used freely, sometimes crossing the boundary of racial and religious sensitivity as rival cyber troopers vie to influence public perception.

Both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat have accused each other of paying cyber troopers to attack their opponents on social networks.

One example which a non-governmental organisation complained about was the case of pro-opposition cyber troopers uploading a photograph of a woman online last month accompanied by harsh and vulgar comments.

The woman, who is a committee member of the Malaysian Youth Rights Movement, was also threatened with gangrape and murder over her stand on some issues.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah condemned the strategies being employed by cyber troopers, saying “they put too much focus on attack”.

“In the long run, these strategies won’t work. The people will start reading these comments and say you are insulting my intelligence’,” said Saifuddin.

Outgoing Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi denies that there are cyber troopers on his party’s payroll, and called for politicians to make a stand against the current tactics employed by cyber activists.

“We (politicians) should not be seen to be condoning abusive commentaries. We have to call a spade a spade. If it were to come from my party, we would have to put them under restraint,” said Ooi.

Supt Ahmad Noordin Ismail from the cyber crime department of the police’s Commercial Crime Unit said nabbing cyber troopers and cyber bullies can be complicated due to a lack of evidence.

“People can make these comments and remove them easily,” he said.

Digital News Asia executive editor A. Asohan said he expected the mud-slinging, and warned that things would get worse as polling day nears.

“The real dirty play will come from the Internet. You will see a lot of accusations flying back and forth while paid bloggers will go on the warpath,” he added.

However, he believed people are smarter these days and would not be easily taken in by what was being posted on Websites.

MCA Youth new media bureau head Neil Foo agreed that it was not a healthy trend for both sides to have a go at each other in an unruly manner.

He said he always reminded the MCA cyber warriors and supporters to be polite, argue based on facts and not be too emotional.

He admitted that there are some who got carried away when egged on by other cyber troopers.

“I’ll ask them to watch the words they use. There should not be any vulgarity or personal attacks. They should stick to the facts,” he said.

Action can be taken against people who post offensive comments online, Kuala Lumpur Bar IT committee chairman Foong Cheng Leong said.

Under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, those found guilty of harassing or being offensive online can be fined a maximum of RM50,000 or jailed up to a year or both, he noted.

The same clause also provides that a further fine of RM1,000 can be levied daily during which the offence is continued after conviction.

Foong strongly felt that “while people are free to express their opinions, they should not defame or attack others maliciously”.

Universiti Sains Malaysia psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat said cyber bullies, who preyed on their victims often perceived they had the right to bully.

“They have this sense of entitlement, whereby their way is the best and people should follow them. Their perception is also very lopsided based on their own personal experience and expectations,” she said yesterday.

Dr Geshina Ayu said these bullies were more daring online as they felt that they could get away with it.

“But they failed to realise they are bound by the law, even online,” she said.

Bread & Kaya: Looks can be deceiving!

My 3rd issue of Bread and Kaya was published by Digital News Asia on 7 March 2013.

Bread & Kaya: Looks can be deceiving!

– Under Malaysian laws, what amounts to obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character is quite wide
– Sessions Court decisions perhaps the reasons why Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 was introduced

Bread & Kaya by Foong Cheng Leong

A COUPLE of weeks ago, I received a message with the title “Looks can be deceiving!” on my blog’s Facebook page, from an unknown user.

In the message, the user claimed that a certain celebrity was having an affair with another celebrity. Unknown to the user, I happen to know former and I alerted that celebrity.

A day after that, the user deleted her account! Fortunately, I saved a screenshot of the message.

Coincidentally, I found that someone had searched for the celebrity’s name on the day the message was sent and landed on my blog. My blog captured the transaction, together with the Internet Protocol (IP) address, time-stamp and other details. It was the only transaction searching for the celebrity’s name.

There was also a record to show that the user clicked on the link to my blog’s Facebook page. From this, there is a possibility that the author had found my blog using the celebrity’s name (and my blog appears on the first page of search results) and decided to send me that message.

A query on the IP address shows that the user resides in Malaysia and is thus subject to the laws of Malaysia. The celebrity may file an action in court to obtain the user account details of the IP address if she wishes to. Alternatively, she may make a police report against that person.

The lesson of the story is: If you want to do naughty things online, remember to mask your tracks (e.g. by using proxies); otherwise the law will come knocking on your door. Internet trolls have been living amongst us and many still roam the streets of cyberspace.

This brings me to the topic of this article: Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

Section 233 makes it an offence to post any content which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.

Anyone who does so is liable to a fine not exceeding RM50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both, and shall also be liable to a further fine of RM1,000 for every day during which the offence is continued after conviction. It’s a widely used tool by law enforcers to nab Internet trolls.

[RM1 = US$0.32]

What amounts to obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character is quite wide. Making prank emergency calls (PP v Sow Kuen Chun; Criminal Case No. 63- 01- 2008); and insulting the Sultan (PP v Muslim bin Ahmad; [2013] 1 AMR 436); offensive comments (Nor Hisham Bin Osman v PP; Criminal Case No: MTJ(2)44-14-2010)), and (PP v Rutinin Bin Suhaimin (Criminal Case No. K42-60-2010)) are examples where people were charged under Section 233.

[Click links above to download case files]

PP v Muslim bin Ahmad and PP v Rutinin Bin Suhaimin are both recently decided cases and they relate to the Perak constitutional crisis. Both men had allegedly posted offensive comments towards the Sultan of Perak after Barisan Nasional took over the state of Perak. Both men alleged that they did not post the comments, notwithstanding that the IP addresses point to them.

Muslim bin Ahmad was acquitted by the Sessions Court and Rutinin bin Suhaimin was discharged by the Sessions Court without his defense being called. The prosecution had apparently failed to show that the persons who posted the offensive comments were the accused.

I am told that the impact of the said Sessions Court decisions was one of the reasons why Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 was introduced – that is, to facilitate the prosecution in proving the identity of the maker.

To recap, under Section 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.

However, the High Court subsequently overturned said Sessions Court decisions. Rutinin Bin Suhaimin’s defense was called. Interestingly, the learned High Court judge was of the view that calling the Sultan of Perak names has the tendency to cause annoyance or abuse to any person, thus falling within the ambit of Section 233.

Muslim Bin Ahmad was handed a fine of RM10,000 for each charge and six months’ imprisonment. He pleaded for a “binding over order” (released on probation).

However, the learned High Court Judge warned that a binding over order “would send the wrong message to would be offenders and the public at large that offensively uncontrolled and virulent comments can be indiscriminately posted on the Internet without any or serious repercussions. And that is not a message that this court would like to send out.”

Surprisingly, Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 was never relied on by the Courts. In fact, the High Court in PP v Rutinin Bin Suhaimin said that 114A is not applicable because the postings were made before the enforcement date of 114A (July 31, 2012).

This ruling is interesting as it may be a defense for website owners who can argue that 114A does not apply to posting made by their users prior to July 31, 2012.

Nevertheless, these laws and cases serve as a reminder that the Internet is not a ‘wild, wild west.’ Netizens need to be accountable for what they say. Further abuse by netizens attracts further legislations by Government.

Unfortunately, website owners now face the brunt of 114A due to the actions of their users. Their pleas for the repeal or amendment of 114A are still unanswered.

Filing a Complaint with the MCMC

Posting offending messages on the internet is longer a trivial thing nowadays. Many internet users are now aware of their remedy when facing with offensive messages on the internet.

Bank Employee Charged With Posting Obscene Blog Title

KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 (Bernama) — A former EON Bank Berhad employee pleaded not guilty in the Sessions Court here Monday over the posting of an obscene blog title to embarrass his former boss.

Seah Boon Khim, 26, was accused of posting a vile and indecent material on a blog site http://www.xanga.com/hokongchan67 with intent to annoy Eon Bank Internal Audit Department head Ho Kong Chan at 1.33pm on Aug 13 2007 at 19 A-26-3 Level 6, UOA Centre 19, Jalan Pinang here.

He was charged under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 which carries fine up to RM50,000 or jail up to one year or both.

In mitigation, Seah, who has since resigned from his job, said he had apologised to Ho and admitted that he did not realised the gravity of his action and he should not have done it.

Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission prosecuting officer Raja Iskandar Zulkharnian Raja Abdul Malek appeared for the prosecution.

Judge Zaki Abdul Wahab postponed sentencing until tomorrow.

— BERNAMA

Mr Seah was reportedly fined RM8,000.

S. 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 provides the following:

233. Improper use of network facilities or network service, etc.

(1) A person who-

(a) by means of any network facilities or network service or applications service knowingly-

(ii) initiates the transmission of,

any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person; or

(b) initiates a communication using any applications service, whether continuously, repeatedly or otherwise, during which communication may or may not ensue, with or without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person at any number or electronic address,

commits an offence.

(2) A person who knowingly-

(a) by means of a network service or applications service provides any obscene communication for commercial purposes to any person; or

(b) permits a network service or applications service under the person’s control to be used for an activity described in paragraph (a),

commits an offence.

(3) A person who commits an offence under this section shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both and shall also be liable to a further fine of one thousand ringgit for every day during which the offence is continued after conviction.

This section would also apply to offensive comments posted by readers of a blog. Bloggers now have an avenue to complain without incurring substantial legal fees. Watch out internet trolls!

A complainant may filed their complaint with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission(MCMC).

I thought it would be beneficial to set out a sample complaint for the benefit of other bloggers. This may be in a form of a letter.

On [time on date e.g 12:30am GMT +8 on 31 February 2009], one [person e.g. bb_matik] made an [choose one or more: indecent/obscene/false/menacing/offensive] posting on my blog, [your blog address e.g. www.xes.cx], at the URL [URL which contains the said posting e.g. www.xes.cx/123.htm] using the IP address at [IP address e.g 192.168.1.1]. [Optional. Please note that there is 1000 characters limited] For ease of reference, I reproduce the offending posting:

[reproduce offending message here.

 

]

The above posting is [choose one or more: indecent/obscene/false/menacing/offensive] and I verily believe that the said posting was made with [choose one or more: intent to annoy/ abuse/threaten/harass] me. The said posting has caused [choose one: annoyance/fear/embarrassment] to me.

Thus, I hope that the MCMC will take action against the person who posted the said posting.

Blog postings can backfire

First published on The Star Newspaper on 20 January 2011.

PUTIK LADA
By FOONG CHENG LEONG

Social media influence has hit court proceedings, with lawyers trolling blogs and Wikipedia in search of material that can help them argue the case for their clients.

LAST year brought further interesting development to social media and laws all around the world. Cases making references to social media tools saw an increase.

Social media was a tool for lawyers and litigants to help parties to fight their cases. Social media was also the cause of some parties’ mortification and incarceration.

In one High Court judgment last year, the judge recognised the publication of defamatory blog postings by a husband as one of the grounds to present a divorce petition before the expiry of two years from the date of marriage.

He also recognised that a defamatory statement in a blog posting operated in a borderless realm, and would continue to exist until the maker of the blog removed it.

The challenge against the constitutionality of S. 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the provision commonly used against Internet users, was dismissed by the High Court.

In this case, the defendant was charged with making disparaging remarks against the Sultan of Perak during the struggle between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. The court held, among other things, that the section did not impede freedom of expression. S. 233 is to ensure that the freedom given by the Constitution is exercised responsibly.

The use of Wikipedia as a reference is increasingly recognised in Malaysia, notwithstanding that the reliability of Wikipedia is questionable, as anyone can add or edit an entry in Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, the reliance on Wikipedia by our courts can be traced in reported cases as early as 2007.

Last year Wikipedia was referred to in Etonic Garment Manufacturing Sdn Bhd v Kunn-G Freight System (M) Sdn Bhd [2010] 1 LNS 13 (for the meaning of freight forwarder), PP v Murugan a/l Arumugam [2009] 1 LNS 1759 (for the meaning of atherosclerosis) and Thai Long Distance Telecommunication Co Ltd & Anor v Malaysian Maritime Dredging Corpo­ration Sdn Bhd (Kuala Lumpur Suit No: D-22-352-2005, for the meaning of chart datum).

Social media influence had also hit court room proceedings. It is common in Malaysia for people, in particular reporters, to tweet live from the courts. In the United Kingdom, the Lord Chief Justice issued a guideline for the use of live text-based forms of communication from court.

In this guideline, the Lord Chief Justice approved the use of Twitter for court reporting. However, in the US, certain courts ban the use of social media by juries.

In the US case of Romano v. Steelcase Inc, 2006-2233 (N.Y. Super. Sept. 21, 2010), Kathleen Romano sued Steelcase Inc for injuries she suffered after she fell off an allegedly defective desk chair manufactured by Steelcase Inc.

As a result of the fall, she claimed, she suffered restricted movement of her neck and back and “pain and progressive deterioration with consequential loss of enjoyment of life”.

In defence, Steelcase applied to access Romano’s current and historical Facebook and Myspace pages and accounts which are believed to be inconsistent with her claims in the action concerning the extent and nature of her injuries, especially for loss of enjoyment of life. The court granted Steelcase’s application.

Similarly, in McMillen v Hummingbird Speedway Inc, et al, Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, Civil Division, No. 113-2010 CD, Opinion on Defendants’ Motion to Compel Discovery (Sept. 9. 2010), the plaintiff sued the defendants for injuries suffered.

The defendants claimed that posts on the public portion of his Facebook page showed that he had exaggerated his injuries. The court granted the defendants access to the plaintiff’s private portion of his Facebook and Myspace account to determine whether or not the plaintiff had made any other comments which impeached and contradicted his disability and damages claims.

Closer to home, in a reported Industrial Court case, an employee claimed that she was forced by her employer to resign.

In response, her employer argued that the resignation was voluntary and they produced extracts of the claimant’s blog which showed the claimant had written about her feelings regarding her employment with the employer.

In it, she stated that she wanted to leave the company and admitted that she went for job interviews as she had already decided to go away.

The Industrial Court chairman relied on the blog entries to find that the employee had intended to leave and found that she had gladly tendered her resignation to take on new employment.

In Australia, a hairdresser won compensation for wrongful dismissal after losing her job for making unflattering remarks about her employer on her Facebook.

In Miss Sally-Anne Fitzgerald v Dianna Smith T/A Escape Hair Design [2010] FWA 7358, Commissioner Michelle Bissett for Fair Work Australia said that posting comments about an employer on a website (Facebook) that can be seen by an uncontrollable number of people is no longer a private matter but a public comment.

It would be foolish of employees to think they may say as they wish on their Facebook page with total immunity.

This year brings another exciting watershed to Malaysia’s social media legal sphere. The Personal Data Protection Act 2010, which governs the processing of personal data, is pending enforcement.

Proposed amendments to the Copyright Act 1987 have been drawn up in the form of a Bill to exempt Internet service providers from liability for copyright infringement under certain circumstances.

The Bill also empowers the court to order an Internet service provider to disable access to infringing material.

Furthermore, the so-called Internet Service Providers Liability Act may be passed to compel Internet service providers to take action against their users if they download songs or movies illegally.

Tweet at your own risk

Published in The Star Newspaper on 21 January 2010

The explosion in Internet-based social networking – fuelled by ease of DIY publishing – is throwing up new challenges, business and legal, to the online community.

THE year 2009 marked an important year for social media networking. It brought change to politics, society and business.

Many politicians set up their own Twitter accounts to connect with the masses.

Many companies – from multinational companies to our local restaurants – set up accounts on social media networking websites to publicise their business, and even to manage consumer complaints.

Malaysian company MOL Global Pte Ltd entered into an agreement with Friendster, Inc to acquire 100% of Friendster.

Also launched was Project Alpha, Malaysia its first online TV show about Malaysian bloggers.

Social media, designed to be disseminated through social interaction, is created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques, Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.

Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, videos, ratings and bookmarking (Source: Wikipedia). Examples of social media networking websites or tools are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Friendster.

With social media websites rising in popularity, there are now more content generators on the Malaysian online community. Publishing content, once a technical and time consuming task, has been simplified; users merely need to enter text and click a button to publish.

Is Malaysian law able to cope with such changes?

The law governing online activities remains the same. Content generated through social media websites are still governed by laws on defamation, trade mark, copyright, and as well as the Computer Crimes Act 1997, Communi­cations and Multimedia Act 1998, and so on.

Internet users should be vigilant when posting updates, blog entries, tweets, comments and emails.

Even a 140-character limit tweet may get you into trouble. For example, Courtney Love, the widow of Kurt Cobain, was sued by her former clothes designer for defamation, invasion of privacy and inflicting of emotional distress for “an extensive rant” on Twitter about how she was billed for custom clothing.

Social media websites or tools have also been used to attack others. Some users think they can hide incognito behind the screen. However, some were unmasked and had to endure severe punishment.

In 2008, in the case of Applause Store Productions Limited & Anor v Grant Raphael [2008] EWHC 1781 (QB), the claimants were awarded £22,000 in damages against Raphael, an old school friend, who had created a false personal profile of the claimants on Facebook.

Back home, in July 2009, a former bank employee was charged with posting vile and indecent material in a blog with intent to annoy another colleague. He was fined RM8,000, in default two months’ jail.

Making a complaint against malicious users is now fairly easy and can even be done online – at http://aduan.skmm.gov.my, the website of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC) complaints bureau.

In the face of severe punishments, malicious users will take all sorts of steps to keep their identity secret. They may use fake names and emails, proxy servers, and also install devices to ensure that their identity cannot be traced. However, they are not safe from the long arm of the law.

In the case of The Author of a Blog v Times Newspaper Limited [2009] EWHC 1358 (QB), a blogger sought an interim injunction in the English court to restrain Times Newspapers Ltd from publishing any information that would or might lead to his identification as the person responsible for a blog.

The blogger argued that his anonymity protected him against any action being brought against him. His application failed. The judge commented that blogging is a public activity and any right of privacy would likely be outweighed by public interest in revealing his activities.

Anything posted on the Internet will stay on the Internet. It will travel and be read by other people. Nothing is ever private on the Internet.

A clear example is the case where a former high school teacher in the US was forced to resign over photos and expletives on her Facebook page. The page had photos of her holding wine and beer and an expletive.

Although one may argue that it is one’s right of privacy to have one’s personal activities protected, the law does not prevent others from doing so.

Trade marks and trade names have also been highly abused in social media websites. Many users register their username using trade marks or trade names of other companies or individuals.

Companies have had to seek legal advice on the available courses of action in restraining such action or in obtaining such names back. This resulted in hefty legal fees and also time.

In combating such problems, Facebook gave trade mark owners the opportunity to register their rights to the username before the launch of personalised username and URLs. In doing so, Facebook had taken steps to avoid any lawsuits over trade mark.

Twitter on the other hand was not so lucky. A well-known US sports figure, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued Twitter over an account created in his name.

The false account posted updates that gave the false impression that the comments came from La Russa. The suit said the comments were “derogatory and demeaning” and damaged La Russa’s trade mark rights. The case was eventually settled.

The year 2010 will be another interesting year. Internet-enabled phones and data plans are offered at an affordable rate. Users can now access the Internet through their mobile devices whenever and wherever they are.

It will be interesting to see what are the new tools for online social networking, and the new legal challenges for the online community.

> The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, please visit www.malaysianbar.org.my/nylc.

Tweet below the law

Featured in The Star Newspaper on 8 August 2010

Sunday August 8, 2010
Tweet below the law

By JOSEPH LOH
sunday@thestar.com.my

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have allowed people to easily let others know what is on their minds. But users should be careful with what they post because the laws of the land apply to cyberspace as well.

THE Internet is increasingly becoming a virtual soapbox for people to vent their thoughts – and sometimes frustrations and dissatisfaction. The proliferation of blogs, discussion groups, and more recently, social networking, have emboldened many – with the assumption that making comments from behind a screen shields them from any legal repercussion.

However, the long arm of the law extends beyond solid ground, and reaches into the virtual realm as well.

According to H.R. Dipendra, from the Malaysian Bar Council’s human rights committee, there is no distinction between comments posted on the Internet and traditional print media.

“Internet posts are subject to similar laws as that of print media, aside from the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (MCMC Act) and Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.


False sense of security: People on social networking sites and blogs tend to say more than they do in real life, thinking they can do it anonymously.

“You have to be careful what you write, and not just post what comes off the top of your head. If you know it to be inflammatory, then you should be careful,” he says.

Eddie Law, blogger and founder of elawyer.com.my and laweddie.com.my says that the www header is not an acronym for the wild wild west.

“Some think they can post or write anything, but that is not true,” he says.

Examples of legislation (see chart) include the Sedition Act, Internal Security Act, as well as civil and criminal defamation laws – all of which have previously been invoked to bring an individual to court, most famously in the cases involving blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin.


Dipendra

More recently, DAP member Teng Chang Khim was summoned to appear before the party disciplinary committee for a Twitter message that read “OMG! Real culprit freed.”

Dipendra says what has happened to Teng is fascinating, but does not believe anything will come out of it.

“His statement is not defamatory as it does not specifically refer to any particular person. It is a general opinion on a general matter,” he says.

Posting news content on Internet blogs, for example, is in some way similar to what mainstream news journalists do, but Law feels that bloggers are at a distinct disadvantage.

“They do not have proper media training or resources to help them determine what they are doing is legal.”

He opines that as social networking and blogging activity is still relatively new, there is little legal precedent to follow and there are many issues yet to be tested in court.

“The wording of the MCMC Act (Section 233 and 211) is very broad, and there is a lot of uncertainty. Because it is not yet tested, you can be snagged if its wording can be defined to suit your case,” he says.

Dipendra shares a similar opinion, and believes that when the law was drafted, it was intentionally broadly-worded.


Law

“It can be of any mode, medium or application – SMS, iPad or Twitter – so long as you type out a comment and post it, you will fall within the ambit of the two sections.

“The law is broad enough to include everyone, even an innocent disseminator,” he says.

However, he does not think it is a bad law.

“It may be uncertain and ambiguous, but not bad law. It gives enforcement agencies a lot of leeway so they would have the unfettered discretion for its use. The only question is if this discretion is used fairly,” says Dipendra.

Anonymity not guaranteed

Foong Cheng Leong, from Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill’s intellectual property department, says that people tend to say more than they do in real life, thinking they can do it anonymously.

“They think they can get away with it, but they may still get caught,” he cautions.

He gives the example of the Stemlife Bhd v Bristol-Myers Squibb (M) Sdn Bhd case. The co-defendant, Arachnid Sdn Bhd, who provided website maintenance services, was ordered to reveal the names of the persons who posted disparaging remarks against the plaintiff.

However, in a separate defamation suit involving the same parties, the judge struck out the suit against Arachnid, as it had never played an active role in respect of the content of the comments posted on the website.

There was another case where the defamatory contents of a website were deleted, but the lawyers were able to find the offending page using archived pages on waybackmachine.com.

“Simply deleting the page is not a defence, as the damage may have already been done. In a way, it is like destroying the evidence,” says Foong.

However, Law says web service providers need immunity from content posted on their website, something that United States law provides for in Section 230 of its Communi­cations Decency Act.

Foong informs that a similar “safe harbour” provision is being drawn up in Malaysia, and the same kind of immunity may later be found here.

Dipendra also says that what is posted on cyberspace stays there forever.

“Something that you said 10 years ago on a website may resurface, and you may have no recollection of even writing it.”

While existing Malaysian law appears to cover cases of wayward online behaviour at the moment, there are some who feel that there is a need for the law to be reformed.

Sonya Liew of the Bar Council explains that the world is currently undergoing both a revolution and evolution at the moment.

“Just like how there was the industrial revolution before, now we are having an information revolution,” she says.

She explains that during the agrarian age, laws were formed to protect the land, and during the industrial age, to protect intellectual property with laws regarding copyright and trademarks, for example.

“Laws regarding sedition and secrets were passed many years ago, before the information revolution. But now, society has evolved beyond this,” she says, adding that the people’s expectations regarding the right to information have evolved – together with technological advances.

“The whole world now has information at its fingertips, and if you withhold information, people start to question the lack of access to it.

“People expect information, and the question is if existing laws are sufficient to provide for the needs of a modern society,” says Liew.

She notes that signs of this can be seen in the increasing call for freedom of expression and the right to information.

“Later, we will hear of even more rights that we have not even heard of before, and it may even eat into the right to privacy,” she says, explaining that this may arise as people may want to know more about government officers’ or politicians’ lifestyle – in order to reduce graft.

“Laws exist to serve society, and society does not serve the law. We have this need now, and the question is if the Government is doing enough to provide for this need,” says Liew.

Any significant legal reform on the use of the Internet is not yet on the horizon, and until then, social networkers and bloggers should be vigilant on their online behaviour.

“People should behave the same way online as they would in real life. If they do not shout and curse in public, then their behaviour should remain the same online. They should not wear a different hat in cyberspace,” says Law.

Foong succinctly describes the appropriate online behaviour with a biblical quotation – which is still as relevant today as it was 2,000 years after it was uttered.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” quotes Foong.

Minimising the risks in blogging

Published in The Star Newspaper on 8 January 2009.

BLOGGING has become the new way of life of Malaysians. It is without doubt a new form of media where a large number of the public refer to these days in addition to the mainstream media.

With this comes responsibility. It is settled that bloggers are liable for what they say and for what other people post on their blogs. The following laws are applicable to bloggers:

> Civil and criminal defamation;
> Sedition;
> Communication and Multimedia Act 1998; and,
> Copyright infringement.

The above list is not exhaustive and it is hoped that the following will serve as a short guide to minimise the risks of blogging.

One of the most common actions brought against website owners (which include a blogger) is a defamation suit. The definition of defamation is not a static concept.

It has been defined that a statement may be defamatory when it tends “to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally” or “to cut him off from society” or “to expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule”.

Defamatory statements may not only arise from written postings but also from videos (embedded in the blog), pictures/drawings/graphics, sound and even hyperlinks. Recently, a Malaysian High Court held that a website owner is liable for a hyperlink posted by a commentor that links to a website containing a defamatory statement.

The consequence of being liable for defamation is grave. It can drain you financially and make you a bankrupt. It can even put you in jail if it falls under criminal defamation. Even a food review blogger can be subject to a defamation suit. Thus to avoid such problems, the following steps are recommended:

> Avoid potentially defamatory statements;
> Moderate comments;
> Identification of commentor’s details;
> Warning to commentors;
> Disclaimer;
> Disable Cache; and,
> Anonymity.

The most obvious, and the most important, step to take from being slapped with defamation action is to avoid defamatory statements.
Always ensure that what you write is true. If you are unable to verify the truth of a statement on your blog, junk it. Avoid criticising other people on your blog, as sometimes the criticism can be taken as defamatory.

Another type of entry you should avoid is rumour-based entries. It is advisable not to repeat a rumour made by others, unless you can prove it.

As mentioned earlier, what got many website owners into trouble is what their readers posted. And website owners are liable for comments made by other parties published on their website.
In this regard, website owners can be subject to an application to the court compelling them to reveal the identity of the commentor. It should not be much of a problem to website owners to reveal the identity, but sometimes the order goes a bit further than that.
For example, there were cases where website owners were compelled to reveal Malaysian identity card numbers of their commentors, and also slapped with costs payable to the complainant.

Thus, it is useful to set up a system to filter comments and require commentors to register themselves before they can submit comments. Alternatively, the website owner may have in place a stringent approval system where comments will only be posted upon approval.
Further, you may also reveal the details of the commentors such as their Internet Protocol (IP) address, time of posting and e-mail address on the website upon the posting of the comment.
By revealing such details, the commentors can be traced through their Internet service provider, etc. This may restrain commentors from posting malicious comments.

It would also be useful to place a warning stating that commentors are liable for what they say or that you will reveal their details to the authorities upon request. The warning can be fortified with a disclaimer, which could be useful to discourage defamatory statements.

The disclaimer can go along these lines: “The comments contained on this blog reflect the views of the author and do not in any way represent that of the owner of this blog.” This serves as notice that the views of the commentors are not shared by the blogger.
Many consider websites such as WayBack Machine and Google Cache as God‘s gifts to computer geeks. These websites keep a record of your website and are quite useful when you lose the contents of your website. You can retrieve some of your lost documents from there.

But this also means that anyone can retrieve anything deleted from your website, including defamatory statements that had been removed. But not to fear, for there is also a special option where you can stop these websites from keeping a record of your website.
If all the above fail to avoid a letter of demand or you just wish to have a carefree blog, then try blogging anonymously. This would include setting up a blog using a pseudonym with no trace of the person’s identity on the blog. Some do it for their own protection, and some do it so that they cannot be found.

Although distasteful, this allows bloggers to avoid being discovered and to post entries without any restriction. But if caught, they will suffer grave repercussion. In a recent Canadian court decision, anonymous electronic postings of defamatory material were not only actionable but would also warrant a high damages award.
With the upcoming High Speed Broadband (HSBB) rollout, we can expect more content-rich blogs. With this, the dissemination of information may expand to methods which are unknown to us now. There will therefore be new laws and challenges ahead.

Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, please visit www.malaysianbar.org.my/nylc.

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