Will there be a Multimedia Convergence Bill in the forthcoming meeting of Parliament?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The forthcoming Parliament, which is meeting next Monday, is one Parliamentary meeting which is being awaited with great national and international interest because of the government promise to pass some of the most advanced cyberlaws in the world.

The brochure put out by the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) to promote the Multimedia Super Corridor, gave the following assurance:

“As a cornerstone of its move into the Information Age, Malaysia is transforming its legal and regulatory environment to support companies undertaking multimedia commerce. The first steps include drafting the Multimedia Convergence Act, which creates an up-to-date communications framework.”

The MDC promised that the Multimedia Convergence Act would be implemented in 1997, along with five “high-impact cyberlaws”, namely on digital signature, multimedia intellectual property, computer crime, telemedicine development and electronic government.

This would mean that the government is preparing for the enactment of the first batch of six cyberlaws for the take-off of the MSC.

Although the MDC has promised the first batch of six cyberlaws, to be spearheaded by the Multimedia Convergence Act, only three laws had been talked about in recent months, namely on digital signature, multimedia intellectual property and computer crime. What has happened to the Multimedia Convergence Act which is supposed to provide the “up-to-date communications framework” for the MSC?

Will there be a Multimedia Convergence Bill in the forthcoming Parliament?

I have checked with Parliament and I have been informed that although it has received formal notice that three cyberbills would be tabled in the forthcoming meeting, it has not received anyone of the cyberbills as yet, and there are no indications that there would be a Multimedia Convergence Bill. This is not a good advertisement to the world about Malaysia’s greater responsiveness, accountability and transparency in the Information Age.

This is very disappointing, especially as the briefing given by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad last Tuesday to Barisan Nasional Ministers, MPs and Assemblymen on the MSC and social ills have shown the poor grasp of elected representatives on the the subject of MSC in particular and IT generally.

As reported in the press, although the MSC was explained at length by the Prime Minister, only one question was asked from the floor on the subject by the Barisan Nasional elected representatives. University undergraduates would have done better!

The Prime Minister should give his personal attention to ensure that the cyberbills to be presented to the forthcoming meeting of Parliament should be made public immediately and posted on the Internet to invite the fullest and widest public discussion and participation - and send out a clear message to all government and political leaders that the entire objective of the IT exercise must be people-oriented!

In yesterday’s press, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Mustapha was reported as saying that a “cyber court” would be set up after Parliament passes a Bill on the proposed cyber law in the forthcoming meeting.

He said that Malaysia would emerge as the first country in the world to set up a cyber court.

It is news that Parliament would be asked to enact legislation to introduce the first cyber court in the world. This announcement has not only caught the country, but I am sure, both the judiciary and the Bar Council by complete surprise.

While Malaysia should aim to be a world leader in government administration to provide better, faster and cheaper public service by making full use of the opportunities presented by the new information and communications technologies, we must have our foot firmly planted on the ground and not be carried away by hyperboles or even worse, to believe in these hyperboles ourselves.

It is ridiculous for instance, for Malaysia to be talking about being the first country to have a cyber court in the future when the Malaysian judicial system has not yet gone on-line while other countries are already quite advanced in electronic usage in their administration of justice.

Singapore for instance has started introducing a cybercourt system by requiring all lawyers to submit all their court papers electronically, with a 50 per centg surchage on existing rates levied on attorneys who file old-fashioned paper documents.

A computer database contianing all of Singapore’s legal statutes is being prepared for the Internet, allowing lawyers to conduct legal research electronically.

The Australian High Court went online last October, with stacks of information available online on what the court does, has been doing and will do soon in the business lists. There are also transcipts of recent speeches and, most impressive of all, the full text of all court decisions from 1947 to the present.

In the United Kingdom, even the ancient House of Lords has gone on-line, making its judgments available on the Internet.

For Malaysia, as far as electronic usage in our administration of system, it is a totally blank. When Malaysia has to catch up with other countries in the provision of electronic service, whether in the administration of justice or other public service departments, it will make Malaysia look ridiculous if our Ministers continue to claim that they want to be “first” in this or that area, showing their ignorance of the strides already made by other countries in these fields.

This is the reason why the Government should allow the fullest opportunity for public discussion and feedback on the cyberlaws it proposes to introduce in the forthcoming Parliament.

For instance, there seems to be a view that once the computer crime bill is enacted by Parliament, Malaysia would resolve the problem of “hacking” in the country. This will be another error of judgment.

Although the Malaysian Police has said that it is seeking the co-operation of their more experienced foreign counterparts in dealing with computer hackers, the government must also be realistic about the problem of computer hacking.

For instance, a report of the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) last year revealed that the computers of the US Department of Defence had been subject to 160,000 hacker attacks in 1995.

It further revealed that 65 per cent of the 38,000 attacks led by the US Defence Information System Agency (DISA) on government computers to test security levels were successful, amongst which only 4 per cent were detected and even fewer reported to DISA.

It has rightly been pointed out that the term “computer security” is a misnomer, as there is no such thing as computer security. There are only various degrees of insecurity.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong