(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The newly-formed multi-party Parliamentary InformationTechnology (IT) Committee is organising a Cyberbill Forum in Parliament House on April 26 where representatives of government agencies responsible for the drafting and implementation of the Bills, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Members of Parliament, NGOs like Bar Council and the Malaysian Medical Association, IT industry players and practitioners, as well as members of the public would have an opportunity for an interaction as to the cyberlaws Malaysia needs when making the transition to the Digital Era - before MPs begin debate on the first batch of the country’s cyberbills.
The debates on the second reading of the Digital Signature Bill and the Computer Crimes Bill are originally scheduled to begin on Wednesday and the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, should be commended for agreeing to stand down the debate for these two bills till later at the current parliamentary meeting until MPs have more time to study them as well as to get public feedbacks and inputs, particularly at the Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum as planned by the Parliamentary IT Committee.
This is a good and encouraging sign that the government is prepared to adopt a more democratic form of governance where the public could participate in the decision-making process, as being consulted and having their views heard before laws are passed. I hope that this will mark a more open and participatory democratic form of government in Malaysia in keeping with the nation’s intention to make the transition to an Information Society in the 21st century.
The government has announced that four cyberbills would be presented for passage at the current meeting of Parliament, but up to now, MPs have not received two of these cyberbills, the Copyright (Amendment) Bill and the Telemedicine Development Bill.
The government should welcome public consultation and participation in the legislative process, not only after the bills are tabled in Parliament for first reading, but throughout the entire formulation process of a legislative proposal, right from the very beginning of the initiation of the idea.
The United States Government, for instance, has been working on multimedia intellectual property rights legislation since the end of 1993, when a Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights was set up by the Information Policy Committee, one of the three committees of the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) set up by President Clinton to articulate and implement the US Administration’s vision for the National Information Infrastructure (NII).
The Working Group held a public hearing in November 1993, at which 30 witnesses testified. The Working Group also solicited written comments and received some 70 statements during a public comment period which closed on December 10, 1993. Following its review of the public comments and analysis of the issues, the Working Group released a preliminary draft of its report (Green Paper) in July 1994 to ensure broad dissemination and ample opportunity for public comment prior to making final recommendations and issuing its Report. Thousands of copies of the Green Paper were distributed in paper form as well as electronically.
Following the release of the Green Paper, the Working Group heard testimony from the public in four days of hearings in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington . In addition, more than 1,500 pages of written comments on the Green Paper and reply comments were filed, in paper form and through the Internet, by more than 150 individuals and organizations - representing more than 425,000 members of the public - during the comment period, which extended over four months.
Interested parties had numerous opportunities to submit their views on the intellectual property implications of the development and use of the NII and on the Working Group’s Green Paper, including its preliminary findings and recommendations.
The final report and recommendations of the Working Group was submitted in September 1995 in a form of a White Paper which is now the subject of rigorous public discussion and debate.
In contrast, nobody knows what is going to be in the Copyright (Amendment) Bill which is to be one of the key cyberlaws which will fulfil the government’s guarantee to the world IT industry that Malaysia would “become a regional leader in intellectual property protection” and no opportunities have been given to interested parties to participate in the drafting of the multimedia intellectual property law for Malaysia.
The Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum being organised on April 26 would make history for it would be the the first time that there would be a coming together of a large cross-section of Malaysians representing legislators; government agencies which initiated, drafted and would have to implement the legislative proposals; industry representatives and practitioners; NGOs and interested members of the public to discuss a set of legislative proposals in an area which will become increasingly important, as it is difficult to identify a single area of law or of life which is not at least potentially affected by information technology. However, the Parliametnary Cyberbill Forum on April 26 should be the culmination and climax, and not the first step, of the process of national discussion and consultation process on the first batch of cyberbills - especially as Parliament would begin to debate and enact the laws a few days after the forum.
Participants, whether MPs, industry players, practitioners, NGO representatives or interested members of the public should not attend the Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum on April 26 with an blank mind as to the cyberlaw proposals presented by the Government, only learning about the details of the cyberbills at the Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum, but should be fully informed and knowledgeable about the contents of the various cyberbills so that participants could address the substantive issues about the various cyberbills.
For instance, on the Digital Signature Bill, MPs and participants should know about the meaning of digital signature, key pair, public key, private key, certification authority, repository, encryption, etc. how they function and relate to each other by before the April 26 Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum. This will allow the Forum to address policy, legislative, regulatory and drafting issues of a digital signature law for Malaysia.
One such policy issue is whether the Malaysian digital signature law should be “technology specific” or “technology neutral”. Under the bill, the term “digital signature” is defined to require asymmetric cryptosystems. This is “technology specific”. A statute that refers to use of electronic or digital systems generally, but does not specify any particular technology or implementation of technology is “technology neutral”. Whether a statute or regulation is technology specific or neutral has policy implications.
While one benefit of the technology specific statutory approach is the increased ability to design legal models that closely track technological capabilities, the benefit of technology neutral legislation is the increased flexibility afforded by such an approach. It is a valid question whether it is prudent to specify a given technology or implementation in a law when information technology and various implementations of this technology are fast changing.
So that participants at the Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum on April 26 can address the policy, legislative, regulatory and drafting issues of the cyberbills without having to spend time to understand them first, all political parties and civic organisations should organise seminars and discussions on the first batch of cyberbills in the next two weeks to disseminate IT awareness culminating in the Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum on 26th April. This will usher in a new era of greater democratic participation by Malaysians in shaping the future Information Society.
This is why the DAP IT Committee has decided to organise a series of nation-wide Cyberbill Seminars as a preparation for the Parliamentary Cyberbill Forum on April 26, beginning with the first DAP Cyberbill Seminar at the Swiss Garden Hotel, Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 13th April 1997 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The other DAP Cyberbill Seminars would be:
Friday, 18th April 1997: Johore Bahru
Crystal Crown Hotel, Century Gardens;
9.30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Malacca - 19th April
Penang - 20th April
Ipoh - 21st April
These DAP cyberbill forums are free and open to members of the public, who can contact the DAP offices for more information. In the case of the first DAP cyberbill seminar in Kuala Lumpur on 13th April 1997, they can contact DAP Hqrs: tel: 03-7578022; fax: 03-7575718; email - [email protected]
Other details as to speakers, place and time for the various cyberbill seminars would be announced later.
Copies of the Cyberbills will be distributed to all participants to the DAP Cyberbill Seminars.
Members from Barisan Nasional parties as well as other Opposition parties are invited to these DAP Cyberbill Seminars, and DAP is prepared to send representatives to any cyberbill seminar organised by Barisan Nasional parties or other Opposition parties, as IT should be regarded as a national agenda transcending political party differences.