S. 248 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998

Cops can’t simply check your phones, says ex-IGP

I was quoted by FreeMalaysiaToday regarding newspaper reports about the Deputy Home Minister Azis Jamman’s answer in Parliament regarding police powers to inspect public’s mobile phone. He was reported to have said that police personnel are allowed to inspect public’s mobile phone at any time and on what reasonable ground that allows such action.

For clarity, the Honourable Deputy Minister’s answer is reproduced in full below (see Hansard 18 November 2019):-

Pihak PDRM menggunakan peruntukan di bawah Seksyen 233, Akta Komunikasi dan Multimedia Tahun 1998, Akta 588 bagi memeriksa telefon bimbit seseorang semasa menjalankan siasatan dan semasa melaksanakan tugas menjaga ketenteraman awam.

Menerusi seksyen ini adalah menjadi satu kesalahan sekiranya seseorang menyalahgunakan kemudahan rangkaian atau perkhidmatan rangkaian telekomunikasi bagi tujuan seperti menghantar komunikasi yang lucah, sumbang, palsu, mengancam atau jelik sifatnya dengan niat untuk menyakitkan hati, menganiaya, mengugut atau mengganggu orang lain.

Melalui seksyen ini, mana-mana pegawai polis boleh mengambil tindakan dengan menyemak apa-apa kemudahan rangkaian atau perkhidmatan rangkaian termasuklah telefon bimbit milik orang yang disyaki melakukan kesalahan di bawah seksyen ini. Selain itu, mana-mana pegawai polis juga boleh mengambil tindakan bagi maksud pemeriksaan apa-apa kemudahan rangkaian atau perkhidmatan rangkaian termasuklah telefon bimbit mengikut peruntukan Seksyen 103, 104 dan 106, Kanun Tatacara Jenayah Akta 593 – di bawah 12 – Tindakan Pencegahan Oleh Polis.

In response to the newspaper reports, I said in FreeMalaysiaToday’s article-

Lawyer Foong Cheng Leong acknowledged that the CMA (Communications and Multimedia Act 1998) allows for searches without warrants, but said this can only be done by an officer above the rank of inspector.

He said a search without a warrant could be done if the officer had reasonable cause to believe that a delay in obtaining a search warrant would adversely affect the investigation or that evidence would be tampered with, removed, damaged or destroyed*.

In such cases, he said, the police could have the phone taken away and inspected later, and refusal to cooperate could see a person being charged with obstruction**.

“A person found guilty is liable to a fine not exceeding RM20,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.”

But he, too, said the power to confiscate or check a person’s phone must be tied to an investigation, and that the police cannot randomly ask for an individual’s phone and check it.

* S. 248 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998
** S. 253 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998

The Deputy Minister later clarified that the police’s power to request or seize a person’s mobile phone if he is a suspect and involved in any pending investigation, and not the the general public randomly.

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