Is our legislation up to speed with technology?
|An engineer by training, Edwin has since turned his back on the engineering world in favour of words in the literary world. A freelance journalist & an editorial consultant writing on his own terms now, Edwin hopes his observations will stir up deeper discussions and debates within Malaysia. You can find Edwin occasionally at twitter.com/yedwin01.|
APRIL 5 — The story that captured local headlines a couple of weeks ago was the release of a sex video allegedly featuring Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
A lot has been discussed in the local press about the veracity of this video and so I won’t repeat them. But one item that emerged from this debacle that caught my eye was the use of social media tools to try and establish if Anwar had an alibi when the sex act took place.
According to The Malaysian Insider story, the Umno-controlled Utusan Malaysia published a report claiming that Anwar had failed to post messages on Twitter during the time an alleged video of him having sex with a prostitute was recorded on the night of February 21.
PKR has, however, slammed the report as “malicious” and produced screen captures of Anwar’s micro-blogging service as proof that he had indeed tweeted at various times on the night in question.
I could be wrong but this is perhaps the first time in recent memory that Twitter feeds of a prominent politician have been used to establish an alibi for his whereabouts.
While I must say this is a pretty innovative thing to do, it’s hard to establish if it was truly Anwar who was updating his tweets at the time in question. Users of Twitter would know that even a child can use a mobile phone to update a Twitter feed. Commonly known as “tweet-jacked,” this act can be done by anyone, knowingly or unknowingly to the owner of his or her Twitter account.
A security expert was even asked if this kind of argument would stand up in a court of law. “I am not a lawyer but personally, I do not think that the Twitter argument can hold in the courts,” said Dhillon Andrew Kannabhiran, security consultant and founder of Hack in the Box security conferences.
“There is still an element of reasonable doubt, mainly because (the Twitter account) is not locked to a device and there are also no digital fingerprints to be able to verify the identity of the user of the account,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Like Dhillon, I’m no lawyer and can’t tell you if this kind of argument would stand up to scrutiny in a court of law or not. But this episode has certainly exposed a broader issue at hand that needs to be addressed with regard to technology and the law.
Simply put, have the law, lawmakers and indeed the government begun dealing with the rapid development of technology and its impact on everyday life especially of issues in the legal realm?
To put things in context, it should be noted that Malaysia actually has some of the most forward-thinking legislation in its time. For instance, the Digital Signature Act 1997, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Act 1998, and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 were all ahead of their time when they were first gazetted as laws to govern the industry back in the day.
Some other laws have come through since then, albeit after many years, most notable of which is the Personal Data Protection Act 2010. But if memory serves me right, there hasn’t been a lot of development in the law vis-à-vis technology outside of these few pieces of legislations.
In that same timeframe, however, technology has progressed exponentially and many new technologies have come to the fore including the use of social media in public life, storage of data in an online world and cyberspace communication in the public sector.
With these developments, one question that’s pertinent to ask is whether the laws of our land and the lawmakers therein are up to the task of keeping up with the developments in the tech world, and if so, are they able to draft new legislation to govern what is going on in the real world?
I’ve always argued that technology is agnostic and neutral and that it can be used either for bad or for good. As such, technology per se itself cannot be blamed when the people behind the scenes use it for evil.
In tandem with this, our lives today cannot escape the proliferation of technology and gone are the days when technology can be divorced from every aspect of our lives.
For example, the world is increasingly storing its personal data on the Internet and technology providers are touting new trends such as cloud computing — the notion of storing almost everything and anything onto the Internet and getting consumers to access it over the Internet via broadband networks.
Are governments, including ours, and by extension our lawmakers, up to the task of dealing with such trends? Are they aware of these developments and up to speed with how to deal with the challenges surrounding cloud computing, for instance?
Issues to do with where the personal data is to be stored, offshore or otherwise, how data is moved, tracked and disclosed, rules for moving data out of a certain zone, what happens when there is a data leak, how to recover data in the event of a breach, policies for back up and disaster recovery are but a few issues in a long list that must be dealt with.
Are our government and lawmakers engaging technology experts both within and outside of our own shores to deliberate the concerns, and are they looking into framing policies and legislation to tackle such matters?
Technology is here to stay whether we like it or not. So as the country strives to become a developed nation by 2020 backed by the use of technology as a catalyst for progress, the country’s laws will also need to evolve and catch up.
Driving this agenda forward must be the collective intelligence of the government, lawmakers, industry experts, and civil society groups, and all need to come together from both sides of the political divide and in a non partisan way to deal with the issues at hand.
Only then can there be a balance in policy and legislation for the betterment of our country.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.