Joe Vincent Singgoh v Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board Sabah 1 & Ors

Bread & Kaya: 2017 Cyberlaw Cases Pt2 – viral content, Uber and appearance of an emoji

By Foong Cheng Leong
Mar 29, 2018

A video clip that was viewed 3 million times deemed to be the truth of an incident
Groupon has its day in court, twice with users not happy with merchants

CARRYING off from where I left off in part one of my review of the interesting Cyberlaw related cases that came to the courts in 2017, I start off with viral content and a case where a video was shared almost 50,000 times. And while Uber Technologies is merging its operations with Grab, it still had its day in court last year with a case in Sabah.

Viral Content

The case of Public Prosecutor v Poovarasan Subramaniam & 2 Others [2017] 1 LNS 1619 determined whether a viral video can be admitted as evidence in a criminal trial.

The 3 accused were charged for murder for a man who had allegedly stolen a mobile phone. In the course of trial during the Prosecution’s case, the Prosecution sought to adduce in evidence a VCD containing a video clip that captured a portion of the incident wherein the victim was assaulted by several men. The video clip went viral on the internet and a prosecution witness had downloaded the same from the blog KITABANTAI into the VCD.

The second accused strenuously objected to the admissibility of the VCD principally because the authenticity of the contents of the VCD is questionable. A trial within a trial (TWT) was held to consider the admissibility of the VCD.

During the TWT, the Prosecution called two bloggers, namely the owners of the blogs KITABANTAI and SIAKAPKELI who had published the video clip, to testify as to the origin of the video clip. KITABANTAI stated that the video came from SIAKAPKELI. SIAKAPKELI later revealed that the video clip came from an online news website called MYNEWSHUB. However, the journalist at MYNEWSHUB does not the exact source of the video clip.

Notwithstanding that the person who originally recorded the video clip live and thereafter uploaded the same in the social media could not be traced and produced in Court as witness, the learned High Court Judge was satisfied that the police investigation team and the Prosecution have used their best endeavours to produce the evidence of the chain of movement of the video clip in cyberspace till it was extracted by the police. The said video clip was admitted as evidence following ss. 90A(1) and (2) and 90C of the Evidence Act 1950. The learned Judge stated that he has no reason to believe that the video clip wasn’t authentic in the circumstances.

This case is in stark contrast with the case of Tan Chow Cheang v Pendakwa Raya (Criminal Appeal No. J-05(LB)-54-01/2016). In this case, the accused was charged with drug trafficking under s. 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. During the examination of one of the raiding officer, the defence suddenly produced a CCTV recording in a pen drive showing that the drug was planted. On completion of the raiding officer’s evidence, the High Court granted the accused a discharge not amounting to acquittal upon the prosecution’s application notwithstanding that the defence had submitted that the accused was entitled to be acquitted and discharged as upon the production of the CCTV recording, the sole or main prop in the prosecution case collapsed prematurely.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court. The Court of Appeal was of the view that the production of a certificate under s. 90A(2) of the Evidence Act 1950 is not the conclusive way to prove the pen drive’s admissibility. The Court of Appeal held that “to allow it to be admitted in such circumstances in, our view, would be open to abuse. It is not impossible during this era of modern technology for images to be superimposed or tempered with. Therefore, it is only safe for witnesses to be called either to confirm or to rebut it“.

In another case involving viral video (Datuk Wira SM Faisal Sm Nasimuddin Kamal v. Emilia Hanafi & Ors [2017] 1 LNS 1373), the Plaintiff and his ex-wife (1st Defendant) were in Syariah Court of Kuala Lumpur to resolve their matrimonial dispute/issues. Together with them were the family members of the Plaintiff and the 1st Defendant, among others.

On 20.9.2016, the Syariah Court ordered the children of the Plaintiff and 1st Defendant to spend a night with the Plaintiff at his home. The Judge of the Syariah High Court further ordered that the children must not be forced if they do not want to follow the Plaintiff. After that, the proceedings between Plaintiff and 1st Defendant was adjourned for the day.

A video recording was taken after the proceeding in the Syariah Court had ended. The video allegedly showed the aggressive behaviour and use of force by Plaintiff outside the courtroom towards both his 2nd child and wife. The 1st to 4th Defendants then shared the said video clip. The 3rd Defendant had uploaded the video clip on her Snapchat virtual page with the words “SMF shoved them to the ground when he gave up” whereas the 1st Defendant had also uploaded the video clip on her Instagram account with the caption “A mother’s heartache .” On a side note, this is probably the first written judgment in Malaysia featuring an emoji.

The Plaintiff alleged that the video clip went viral. The video clip spread so widely that:

(a) Up to 3 million people viewed the video clip;

(b) Nearly 50 thousand people shared and/or distributed the video clip;

(c) Nearly 15 thousand people made comments, conclusions and/or inferences against the Plaintiff as result of the video clip.”

The Plaintiff sued the Defendants for publishing the video clip. Notwithstanding that the video clip went viral, the High Court struck out the Plaintiff’s case. The learned High Court Judge held that:-

“The video recording that was published was undisputably a recording of an actual and real incident and therefore, cannot be denied as being the truth.”

“The objectionable words and statements complained of are not prima facie defamatory. In fact, the same do not substantially even make reference to Plaintiff nor do they directly or by implication refer to or implicate Plaintiff.”

In Synergistic Duo Sdn Bhd v. Lai Mei Juan [2017] 9 CLJ 244, the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for publishing two (2) Facebook postings in relation to the bad service by BGT Lakeview Restaurant operated by the Plaintiff. The second posting went viral and were shared more than 9,500 times and was reposted and published in newspapers, websites, blogs and other Facebook pages. The Plaintiff submitted that: (i) because of the postings, many of its customers cancelled their bookings and reservations; and (ii) if the Defendant was not restrained by way of an interim injunction, the Plaintiff would continue to suffer grave irreparable loss and damage to its reputation and goodwill.

In granting the Plaintiff’s application for interim injunction, the learned Judicial Commissioner held that the continued publication of postings on the Defendant’s Facebook would cause the Plaintiff’s to suffer further damage to their reputation and goodwill as the potential re-publication of the postings to potentially unlimited number of internet users would irreparably harm the plaintiff’s reputation: which harm cannot be adequately compensated with damages.

Digital Currencies

Due to the rising popularity of digital currencies in Malaysia, Bank Negara issued an exposure draft by the name of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) – Digital Currencies (Sector 6). The document outlines the proposed requirements and standards that a digital currency exchanger as defined under the First Schedule of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (AMLA) must carry out as reporting institutions. This is to ensure effective and robust Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) control measures are in place to safeguard the safety and integrity of the financial system as well as to promote greater transparency in the conduct of digital currencies transactions.

The draft exposure sets out the minimum requirements and standards that digital currency exchangers must observe as reporting institutions to increase the transparency of activities relating to digital currencies and ensure effective and robust AML/CFT control measures are in place to mitigate risks that digital currency exchangers may be used as conduits for illegal activities. Such requirement include conducting risk assessment, risk control and mitigation, risk profiling and customer due diligence, among others.

Digital currency exchangers must also comply with requirements in the document relating to: the identification and verification of customers and beneficial owners, on-going monitoring of customers’ transactions, sanction screening, suspicious transaction reporting and record keeping; transparency obligations; and requirements for the submission of data and statistics to the Bank for the purpose of managing ML/TF risks.

The document is applicable to reporting institutions, regardless that the person is not domiciled in Malaysia, carrying on the following activities listed in Paragraph 25 of the First Schedule to the AMLA:-

activities carried out by any person who provides any or any combination of the following services:

(i) exchanging digital currency for money;

(ii) exchanging money for digital currency; or

(iii) exchanging one digital currency for another digital currency, whether in the course of carrying on a digital currency exchange business or otherwise.

Singapore saw its first cryptocurrency dispute in its Court. The case of B2C2 Ltd v Quoine Pte Ltd [2017] SGHC(I) 11 concerns a cryptocurrency transaction dispute between the Plaintiff (a foreign electronic maker for virtual currency) and Defendant (an online virtual currency exchange platform provider in Singapore) which involves Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant had acted in breach of the contract between them and breach of trust when the platform reversed transactions for the sale and purchase of the cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The transactions were unilaterally reversed after the Defendant identified that a technical glitch had occurred to the software used by the platform. Consequently, the Plaintiff had lost the benefit which it could have made if the transaction was not reversed.

The Defendant argued that there was unilateral mistake involved and they are entitled to reverse the transaction. The Plaintiff sought an order for summary judgment.

The Singapore International Court dismissed the summary judgment application by the Plaintiff as there were triable issues raised by Defendant and held that “a thorough investigation of the facts behind the setting of the abnormally high offer price is justified in order to place the court in a proper position fully to assess the state of the Plaintiff’s knowledge”as well as “the law on unilateral mistake where computers are involved in greater detail”.

E-Hailing Services

During the hype of prosecution of drivers of e-hailing vehicle, one Joe Vincent Singgoh sought an order from Court to protect drivers from such prosecution in Sabah. In the case of Joe Vincent Singgoh v Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board Sabah 1 & Ors (Sabah High Court Judicial Review No. BKI-13NCvC-10/10-2016), the Applicant, a person registered with e-hailing service provider Uber Technologies Inc. as a driver, had sought several orders amongst which an order of prohibition against the 1st and 2nd Respondents from relying on the provisions of Section 33 of the Commercial Licensing Vehicles Act 1987 to prosecute or prohibit the Applicant from using the services of Uber Technologies Inc. The Applicant also sought a mandatory injunction was also sought to restrain the prosecution, prohibition of the Applicant to drive or make drives for Uber.

The High Court held that the aggrieved person in this case is not the applicant. The proper person is Uber Technologies Inc. Uber Technologies Inc. has not made any application to the relevant authorities in Sabah for the relevant permits or licences. And in so far as Section 33 is concerned, Uber Technologies Inc. is the ‘person’ responsible to obtain such approvals and not the Applicant. It is not explained or disclosed why this is so.

The Court also held that whatever Uber is promoting is unlawful and illegal. Whether the Government will grant Uber Technologies Inc. the necessary approval or not is a matter for the former to decide as a matter of policy and the Applicants are not entitled to come to court to seek a prohibitive order to pre-empt any legal action that may be taken by the Police of JPJ to enforce the law.

However, the Government will soon be legalising operators of e-hailing service providers and their drivers. The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (Amendment) Act 2017 and Land Public Transport (Amendment) Act 2017 were introduced to amend the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board Act 1987 (“CVLBA”) (applicable to Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territory of Labuan) and the Land Public Transport Act 2010 (“LPTA”) (applicable to Peninsular Malaysia) respectively to introduce the licensing of intermediation business. Intermediation business is defined as “business of facilitating arrangements, booking or transactions of e-hailing vehicle (pursuant to the new amendment to CVLBA) and for the provision of land public transport services (pursuant to the new amendment to LPTA). These amendments is clearly intended to regulate e-hailing services such as Uber and Grab.

The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (Amendment) Act 2017 and Land Public Transport (Amendment) Act 2017 also introduced a new class of commercial vehicle namely e-hailing vehicle. This would include the cars driving by Grab and Uber drivers.

Once these amendments are enforced, e-hailing providers like Grab and Uber and also their drivers would need to be registered.

E-Commerce

Groupon Malaysia had another challenging year. The Court had to decide in two (2) cases whether Groupon should be liable for the payment made to them for the purchase of products and services on the Groupon website.

In Groupon Sdn Bhd v Tribunal Tuntutan Pengguna & Anor [2016] 1 LNS 555, the Groupon user in this case bought a tour travel package vide its platform from one of Groupon’s merchants and paid RM999 (tour travel package) and RM652 (compulsory airport tax, surcharges and tipping) to Groupon and the merchant respectively. However, the said merchant allegedly cancelled the tour and Groupon made a refund of only RM999 to the user. Dissatisfied, the user demanded the refund of RM652. Upon the rejection by Groupon, the user filed a complaint to the Consumer Tribunal and it held in favour of the user i.e. Groupon is liable for the said amount of RM652.

Groupon contended that there is an exclusion provision in the travel voucher which states that the RM652 charges is to be paid to the merchant, hence, Groupon should not be compelled to pay for monies it had not received in the first place. The Court conceded and held in favour of Groupon, that “it is unmistakable that the airport tax, surcharges and tipping were not included in the tour travel deal. In other words, they were not borne or absorbed by the Applicant”.

In Groupon Sdn Bhd v Tribunal Tuntutan Pengguna & Anor [2016] 1 LNS 1009, similarly, the Groupon user in this case bought a tour travel package vide its platform from one of Groupon’s merchants and paid a RM999 (tour travel package) and RM450 (compulsory airport tax, surcharges and accommodation) respectively to Groupon and the merchant. Therein, the said merchant allegedly cancelled the tour and Groupon made a refund of only RM999 to the user. Dissatisfied, the user demanded the refund of RM450. Upon the rejection by Groupon, the user made a complaint to the Consumer Tribunal and it held in favour of the user i.e Groupon is liable for the third party payment to its merchant.

Groupon contended that there is no contractual relationship between Groupon and the user in the RM450 transaction and hence it shall not be liable to pay. The Court rejected the argument and held in favour of the user that Groupon had acted as an agent for the merchant and made a representation in the travel package voucher, instructing the user to make the RM450 payment to the merchant. Groupon shall be liable for the damages as the contractual relationship was established between Groupon and the user but not between merchant and user.

Defamation

The case of Dato’ Aishaf Falina Bt Ibrahim v Ismail Bin Othman & 2 Ors (Kuala Lumpur Civil Suit No. 22NCVC-352-07/2015) highlighted two interesting points.

The Plaintiff claimed that she was defamed by the retention of the erroneous information in the human resources information system of the 3rd Defendant (her former husband) and its “publication” via the said system. The alleged erroneous information was the information regarding the Plaintiff’s post-divorce marital status with the 1st Defendant, was kept in the 3rd Defendant’s human resources information system for a period of time after she and the 1st Defendant had been divorced. The first question is whether the publication of the erroneous information via the human resources information system amounts to defamation.

The second interesting point is whether the publication on the intranet amounts to publication.

The High Court held that the 2nd and 3rd Defendants are liable in defamation for the retention of erroneous information concerning the Plaintiff’s marital status in the 2nd Defendant’s human resources information system notwithstanding that the error was due to a glitch caused by its source code. The High Court also found that the publication of the erroneous information on the human resources information system via its intranet amounts to publication.

The High Court however dismissed the Plaintiff’s action for tort of misuse of private information as the erroneous information is not private information and there was no misuse of information.

Meanwhile, in Lye Eng Eng & Anor v Ho Kee Jin (Kuala Lumpur High Court Civil Appeal No: WA-12BNCVC-174-11/2016), the High Court, on an appeal from the Sessions Court by the Plaintiff, increased the damages awarded to RM35,000 for defaming the 1st Plaintiff by sending an email containing defamatory statements to 23 persons including those who mattered most to him, namely, his children, his friends and business associates. The Court also held that the Sessions Court Judge had failed to take into consideration of the “gravity of the libel”.

Part 3: In the final part we look at a few cases where individuals ran foul of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and some cases under the Computer Crimes Act.


First published on Digital News Asia on 29 March 2018

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