Speaking at the opening of the conference on Borderless and Electronic Commerce in a New Borderless World organised by the Asian Strategic & Leadership Institute, Leo Moggie said there are many uncertainties in the networking aspects and exchange of private information which are inherent in e-commerce, especially when dealing with customers credit card and bank account numbers or personal particulars.
During the debate on the first batch of four cyberlaws in Parliament in April/May this year, I had expressed my great disappointment that a Data Protection Bill to protect the rights of ordinary citizens in the era of e-commerce had not been presented to Parliament.
In his reply, Leo Moggie said an inter-Ministerial committee would be set up to study the necessity of a Data Protection law in Malaysia. I call on Leo Moggie to explain the outcome of government study on a Data Protection Act to protect the rights of ordinary citizens by regulating electronic or computerised data processing, where an individual has the right to access personal data about himself, to get data corrected or erased and to ensure that there is no misuse or abuse in the obtaining, holding and use of personal data.
One of the four cyberbills passed by Parliament in May this year was the Digital Signature Bill which has been gazetted into law.
During the debate, Barisan Nasional MPs gave the impression that this was the best digital signature law in the world to prepare Malaysia for electronic commerce, not realising that the Malaysian Digital Signature Bill was based completely on the Utah Digital Signature Act 1995 and which had already been criticised in the United States for various weaknesses and defects, particularly in failing to give adequate protection to the consumers vis-à-vis the Digital Certification Authorities.
Another Member of Parliament even proposed that Malaysia should urge other ASEAN nations to follow our example and enact similar digital signature legislation, not realising that we could be overtaken by other ASEAN nations in this field.
This has now proved to be true. Last month, Singapore announced that it had set up a digital certification authority, known as Netrust, described as the "first Certification Authority in South East Asia" while Malaysia, though the first to pass a Digital Signature Act in ASEAN and even in Asia, has not yet set up any digital certification authorities. In fact, the regulations for the Digital Signature Act which have to be enacted before any Certification Authorities (CAs) could function in Malaysia have not been finalised.
Netrust is a joint venture between the Singapore National Computer Board (NCB) and Network for Electronic Transfers (Singapore) Pte Ltd (NETS) and provides business and government departments in Singapore a complete online identification and security infrastructure to enable secure electronic commerce and other online transactions across the Internet. By being the first in South East Asian country to set up a digital certification authority, Singapore has again stolen a march ahead of Malaysia to position itself as a global IT and commerce hub. It is worth noting that some economists have forecast that commercial transactions on the Internet will rise to US$70 billion by 2000 from less than US$1 billion today.
Malaysians should feel embarrassed that while some MPs claim only three months ago that Malaysia is the leader in digital signature legislation in Asia, and even proposed that Malaysia should urge other ASEAN nations to follow our example, we have now been overtaken by Singapore as the first nation to establish a digital certification authority to facilitate electronic commerce.
This should be a salutary reminder to the Malaysian government and people that it is no use claiming to be the first in this or that field of Information Technology when other countries are actually more advanced, although they go about their IT advances and preparations quietly, with a minimum of publicity.
It is more important that Malaysia should do solid preparation for the transformation of the country from an industry-based into an information-based economy by building a Malaysian Information Superhighway which is comparable to the best in other countries, together with a nation-wide "IT For All" campaign to produce a highly IT-aware, IT-literate and IT-fluent population to provide the necessary humanware without which there is no way for Malaysia to become an information superpower or power.