Mahathir should personally answer questions on the MSC in Parliament next Tuesday in keeping with the importance and priority the government has placed on the project

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Parliament public relations officer Ahmad Asri Zakaria has said that deliberations on the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project are expected to take centre stage when the Dewan Rakyat sits next Monday with three important Bills on the MSC to be submitted to the House for approval.

He said Parliament had been notified that the Energy, Telecommunications and Posts Minister, Datuk Leo Moggie would table the Computer Crime Bill 1997 and the Digital Signature Bill 1997, while the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, Datuk Abu Hassan Omar will table the Copyright Amendment Bill 1997.

Eleven of the 48 oral questions on the Order Paper for Tuesday, the first working day of the Dewan Rakyat after its official opening by the Yang di Pertuan Agong on Monday, and a total of 58 questions for the 26-day meeting are related to the MSC. The first question on Tuesday, in fact, will be on the MSC.

What is of great concern however is that the questions on the MSC would all be answered by the Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Leo Moggie, his deputy minister or parliamentary secretary, and not by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad himself who had been the leading promoter of the MSC both inside and outside the country.

Recently, the Prime Minister gave a special television interview as well as a special briefing to Barisan Nasional leaders on the MSC.

It is only right and proper that the Prime Minister himself should personally answer questions in Parliament on the MSC on Tuesday in keeping with the importance and priority the government has placed on the project and because he is the best person to inform Parliament about the results of his visits to various countries and meetings with top corporate leaders in the world IT industry in promoting the MSC.

What is also of concern is that on the first Parliamentary sitting on Tuesday, the Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts is likely to answer all the eleven questions on the MSC for the day in one go, and even for all the 58 questions related to the MSC for the whole parliamentary meeting, without addressing all the different aspects asked by different MPs on the subject.

This will also slash the opportunities for supplementary questions, as supplementary questions which could be directed to 58 questions would then end up in two or three supplementary questions for the first question on MSC next Tuesday.

The Government must ensure that MPs have the fullest opportunity to question as well as to put supplementary queries on all aspects of the MSC in the forthcoming meeting of Parliament. How is Malaysia to fulfil its Bill of Guarantees on the MSC to become a leader in cyberlaws?

As part of its promotion of the Multimedia Super Corridor, the Government has promised a Bill of Ten Guarantees, one of which is to “Become a leader in intellectual property protection and cyberlaws”.

Malaysians are entitled to know, and given ample time to study, how the Government proposes to fulfil its Bill of Guarantee to companies in the MSC by providing the best intellectual property protection and cyberlaws in the region.

What is of the greatest concern is that there had been minimal public consultation in the formulation of a multimedia intellectual property law, when in other countries, extensive consultations had taken place before new multimedia copyright laws are proposed and enacted, primarily because of the great advances in technology which continually raise new issues.

The Multmedia Development Corporation (MDC) had announced that the drafting of the Multimedia Convergence Act to create an “up-to-date communications framework” to be implemented in 1997 would be the first step to provide the best cyberlaws in the region.

But there is no news whatsoever about the Multimedia Convergence Bill, although Parliament has received notice on three cyberbills, on digital signature, computer crime and multimedia intellectual property.

Can the MDC, which has described itself as the “champion, facilitator, and partner of companies choosing to operate in the MSC” and that one of its role is “shape MSC-specific laws and policies by advising the Malaysian Government” throw some light on the position of the Multimedia Convergence Bill? Or has the MDC decided abandon the idea of having a Multimedia Convergence Bill altogether? Furthermore, how is the government proposing to introduce the best cyberlaw on computer crime in the region, when it has been estimated that financial losses from computer crime in the United States could reach as high as US$10 billion a year, and that almost all computer attacks go undetected?

What computer security expertise does the Royal Malaysian Police possess so that it could cope with computer crimes in Malaysia? Having the best computer crime law in the region is one thing but even more important is having the capability to enforce such a law, especially as computer hacking or attack could originate from any computer anywhere in the world outside the country.

It is also a matter of concern that in its first batch of cyberlaws, privacy legislation to ensure data protection has been omitted.

Early this year, for instance, a bill called the Consumer Internet Privacy Act was introduced in the House of Representatives in the United States to prevent online and Internet service providers from selling or otherwise distributing “personal identifiable” information about their subscribers without their prior consent.

If Malaysia is to be a leader in cyberlaws in the region, we should also lead in establishing a set of privacy guidelines for the Internet that would protect personal proprietary information of Malaysians.

Privacy or data protection legislation is not new in other countries. Great Britain has had one since 1984, and Germany and France since 1978. Australia, Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden all have data-protection agencies, and Canada has had an information-protection agency since 1978

Malaysia is entering into a completely new area as far as cyberlaws are concerned, and this is all the more reason why the cyberbills which had been approved by Cabinet for presentation to next week’s Parliament should be made public immediately and posted on the Internet to invite the fullest discussion and feedback to gain from the experience, insights and expertise not only in Malaysia but the entire world cyber community.


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