WhatsApp blocks ministry’s smoking ban hotline over snooping complaints

The smoking ban was imposed on Jan 1, with fines of up to RM10,000 or three years’ jail on patrons as well as premise owners who fail to implement the rule.

PETALING JAYA: The health ministry’s efforts to step up enforcement of the six-month-old smoking ban in restaurants and public places appear to have hit a snag, after a public hotline set up to facilitate citizens’ complaints was blocked by popular mobile messaging app WhatsApp.

Messages sent to the number 60108608949 do not go through, with no “double tick” sign on the app to indicate that they have been received.

FMT has been made to understand that there were complaints over privacy filed with WhatsApp which prompted the app owners to block the number.

“Privacy infringement is part of the WhatsApp terms and conditions. We are now consulting our legal experts to see how we can provide this complaints channel on WhatsApp without being accused of breaking the rules,” a source in the health ministry told FMT.

FMT is awaiting a response from WhatsApp.

Part of WhatsApp’s privacy policy as stated on its website reads: “You will not use (or assist others in using) our services in ways that: (a) violate, misappropriate, or infringe the rights of WhatsApp, our users, or others, including privacy, publicity, intellectual property, or other proprietary rights.”

The ministry hotline allows the public to report those who light up in public places, including closed and open-air eateries, which have been declared as no-smoking zones.

Members of the public were told to accompany their complaints with photographs of smokers in the act and the location of the offence.

The smoking ban was imposed on Jan 1, with fines of up to RM10,000 or three years’ jail on patrons as well as premise owners who fail to implement the rule.

Under the rule, smokers can only smoke three metres away from any restaurant.

A six-month grace period ending next month to suspend punishment on offenders has been further extended to year-end.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said the extension was to raise awareness and knowledge about the dangers of smoking.