MCMC can block Telegram access under its Act, says lawyer

I was asked by The Vibes to comment about the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s power to block access to Telegram over Telegram’s alleged conduct of being “uncooperative” with the Ministry of Communications and Digital. The Ministry claims that it had been trying to engage with Telegram since January 2023, following several complaints of pornography and sale of drugs on the platform but they were unresponsive.

In the article, I was quoted-

Lawyer Foong Cheng Leong told FMT that Section 263 of the Act grants the authorities the power to require that ISPs block access to any site or platform from Malaysia. However, no penalties are prescribed under the provision, he said.

“The reason to block a platform or website can include dissemination of obscene, pornographic or copyrighted materials (such as movies).

“It can be considered a ‘ban’ but obviously, one would be able to access it through other means such as through a virtual private network (VPN).

“It is not illegal to use a VPN in Malaysia and it is not possible to ban VPN services in Malaysia as many other people use it for work and personal use,” said Foong.

However, he said the inconvenience of using VPNs may affect the popularity of, or ease of access to, such platforms. In addition, not everyone is savvy enough to use a VPN, he added.

Foong said MCMC may also act against Telegram under Section 233 for improper use of network facilities or network services. This section prescribes for an offence which is punishable with a term of imprisonment and a fine, he said.

“However, the provision provides that the person must have knowingly made that unlawful communication. It is on a case-to-case basis.

“In the present case, Telegram cannot be said to have made that unlawful communication as it is done by their users. They are merely a service provider,” said Foong.

Foong also said that while police action against Telegram is possible, complicated questions arise as to whether the platform owners and administrators can be subjected to Malaysian laws. The government would likely have to go through diplomatic channels to question and summon them, he said.


Foong said Telegram may choose to ignore a summons, as the communications and digital ministry has no power to summon a foreign service provider.


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