FMT LETTER: From Scott Thong, via e-mail
If the newly-amended Evidence Act is all that the media reports make it out to be, then its many loopholes and oversights will be a source of more evil than good. Do the crafters of the amendment really have so little idea as to how the Internet really works?
First as many have already noted, it is all too easy to hack or impersonate someone’s account and post offensive material under his or her name. What is to stop unscrupulous persons from starting unauthorised blogs or Twitter accounts under the name of a rival businessman, politician or even competitor for a girl’s affections?
In fact, these days it’s as easy as waiting for a co-worker you dislike to leave his smartphone unattended for a short while, and then using it to issue death threats against the boss! Meanwhile, it will be all too difficult for the sabotaged person to prove that he did not actually post those remarks himself.
Has the government so quickly forgotten their little spat with hacker group Anonymous? When the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) announced they were banning several file-sharing sites back in June 2011, Anonymous responded by hacking into government websites and defacing them. It was the most that the government could do to claim ‘victory’ since the damage was easily reversible.
But what if hacking ends up having far longer lasting, deeper reaching repercussions… Courtesy of the Evidence Act?
Imagine if after the Act lands an innocent blogger in hot water, the accounts of several prominent persons – say, an outspoken former Prime Minister’s blog, or the current Home Minister’s Twitter feed – inexplicably call for mass racial and religious violence. Will the Evidence Act then be applied in a similar manner, without prejudice between well-connected politician and resourceless layperson?
(By the way, just to clarify: This is a logical prediction, not a threat. Also, for the answer to the above question, see the anecdote about Teresa Kok below.)
Second, I am vehemently against the caveat that gives blog owners little or no recourse when offensive comments are posted on their sites. If it is easy enough for even unskilled persons to hack or hijack an account, it is even easier to sabotage someone’s blog or social website.
Imagine if several disgruntled individuals wanted to take down Malaysiakini or Malaysia Today – even temporarily – or give them countless legal and law enforcement hassles for years on end. All they would need to do is fill the comments section of every page with slurs and then quickly alert the police, complete with screen captures of their handiwork as evidence.
In fact, such a case has happened before in the US new media. A member of prominent blog waited until the wee hours of the morning to post extremely offensive, racist comments at a rival website (under a false name of course). He then boasted to his readers about how the moderators of the website were ‘racists’ because they allowed the disparaging comments to remain visible for hours.
Of course, the moderators of the website were sound asleep in bed at the time! By the time they got to the office and deleted the ugly remarks as per usual practise, the damage had already been done. Thankfully for them, the US does not have an Act that unfairly places the burden of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ on the accused!
Automated moderator/filter programs that rely on banning certain words are not really much help either. If someone were to post a string of four-letter words – each minorly misspelled, or with an asterisk replacing one letter – in conjunction with the Agong’s name, do you think readers and the police would not be able to catch the intended meaning?
In fact, the methods I mention above could be used together in order to bypass a website’s ‘Only Registered Members Can Comment’ safeguard. A hacker just has to access a registered, trusted user’s account and then spam hate under his username. An innocent blog owner together with an innocent commentor will both be in hot water!
Third and most importantly, all the above casual/disorganised attacks pale in comparison to what a well-organised, well-connected operation could do. If a lone, disgruntled Netisen can cause so much havoc as I describe above, then what about an individual or organisation that has the resources and manpower to launch a mass undermining of their enemies – complete with hired professional hacking? And what if they have undue influence over law enforcement and the courts?
In the past years, already many bloggers and new media journalists critical of the government have been hauled up for allegedly ‘seditious’ remarks. In many of these cases, the accused’s computer is also confiscated to ‘assist’ in investigations.
Who is to say that the computer – with all its personal, private data and already logged-in user accounts – could not be used to add further ‘evidence’ against the accused? Blog postings can have their time and date of publishing set to any time in the future or past, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the date when the blogger was in the lockup. What alibi can the accused possibly bring up in such a case?
And lest you have any misconceptions about the law being dispensed with ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’, recall that Teresa Kok was rounded up under the ISA based on false reporting by Utusan Melayu. At the very same time, Sin Chew reporter Tan Hoon Cheng was also arrested under the ISA – but instead for truthfully reporting on Ahmad Ismail’s seditious, racist ‘pendatang’ remarks!
Meanwhile, Utusan Melayu’s reporters and editors were not hauled up for their defamatory and untruthful smears – just as they constantly get away with fantasising about murdering opposition members, throwing slurs and ugly stereotypes at Indians, and accusing Christians of plotting the overthrow of the country. Ahmad Ismail also got away proud and unbowed, in fact more combative than ever!
In conclusion, the end result we can expect is that freedom of speech, freedom of the media and the truth itself will be squashed – directly through baseless arrests of bloggers and tweeters, and indirectly through intimidating others into closing their accounts before they end up sabotaged too.
Think about it, would any Bersih rally have been organised – or truthful accounts of the peaceful rallies vs brutal police tactics made known to the public – if social media were already abandoned by fearful citizens?
So to those who support the poorly conceived parts of the Evidence Act, know that you will have no one to run crying to – no right to complain! – when you end up on the receiving end yourselves.