The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, made a very powerful and visionary speech in Los Angeles two days ago about Malaysia creating the best environment to fulfil the promise of the Digital Age through the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).
There are however two primary policy concerns among thinking Malaysians about the country’s strategy to be in the forefront of the Information Technology Revolution.
Firstly, whether there would be a balanced development of the National Information Infrastructure throughout the country so as not to create a new divide in Malaysia between the information-rich in the MSC and the information-poor in the rest of the country.
Secondly, whether there is a national back-up to support and sustain the development of the MSC to become a world IT hub, whether in terms of the development of world-class IT expertise among the new generation of Malaysians or a high level of IT literacy among the general population.
If the MSC is to be a success, then the government must be able to address both these policy concerns.
For instance, telemedicine, which is to be one of the eight flagship applications of the MSC, cannot be a national success if high-speed access to the Information Superhighway is only to be found in the MSC and not throughout the country.
While Malaysia aims to become a regional centre for telemedicine, we must be conscious of the vast strides which have been made in this field.
In fact, a search of the Internet using the AltaVista search engine for “telemedicine” will produce over 42,000 websites, with many American university and medical colleges offering services of telemedicine - whether teleradiology, telepathology, teleconsultation or telemonitoring.
In fact, the New England Medical Centre in the United States is offering “real-time, live and interactive fetal ultrasound consultations and diagnosis for a number of remote sites”.
Since January 1995, Stanford University began performing weekly teleradiology overreads for Singapore General Hospital and the Mayo Clinic had also launched in the same year a telemedicine clinic between their Rochester, Minnesota location and the Amman Diagnostic Clinic in Amman, Jordan.
Even in China, telemedicine had been launched in six major hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai under the China Telemedicine Network (CTN) last year, and by next year, up to 2,000 regional Chinese hospitals are expected to be ramped up to the network. This network is hooked up to two satellite channels to provide teleradiology, telepathology and video conferencing with the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The Prime Minister has said that to pave the way for Malaysia to become a “natural hub” for telemedicine in the region with “our Chinese, Ayurvedic, Malay and Western medical knowledge and vast biogenetic resources”, one of the four cyberbills to be introduced in Parliament in March would be on Telemedicine Development. The other Bills would be on Digital Signature, Multimedia Intellectual Property and Computer Crimes.
The problem is that there are very few Malaysians who are knowledgeable - let alone being experts - in any of these cyberlaws.
In telemedicine for instance, complex legal and ethical issues are involved, such as malpractice liability, insurance reimbursement, technology, physician interest and acceptance, quality of care, and cost benefit. For instance, where is the patient? Where is the doctor? If a telemedicine doctor in one country treats a patient in another country, in which country is the transaction occurring?
The legal complexities is not confined to the Telemedicine Development Bill, but applies also to the other three cyberbills to be presented to Parliament.
For instance, the digital signature laws passed by various states in the United States, like Utah, Florida, California, Washington and Virgnia had become very controversial despite the holding of public hearings before they were enacted by their respective legislatures.
It is no exaggeration to say that there is hardly any MP in the Malaysian Parliament who knows much about cyberlaws, and this is one important reason why the Government should immediately make public the drafts for the four cyberlaws so that MPs could have at least two months to educate themselves about the legal issues of cyberspace.
Otherwise, the Malaysian Parliament would be passing the four cyberbills into law in its next meeting when not a single MP really understand their implications and effects.