From Murray Hunter
While opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and health minister Khairy Jamaluddin argue over ownership of the MySejahtera application, which is used for contact tracing during the Covid-19 pandemic, the important questions are not being asked: why is the app being enhanced, while similar ones in other countries are being disassembled?
We are nearing the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, so the need for contact tracing is not necessary as we enter the endemic stage of the disease.
What is the intended use of MySejahtera in the future, and why does MySJ Sdn Bhd need to manage an app that should be closing down?
To shed light on the subject, one has to go back to the 12th Malaysia Plan, which states that the government is implementing a national biometric registry system, known as the National Digital Identification (NDI) system.
The planned digital identification system, using new data technologies and software, will be used to hold biometric and other personal data of all Malaysian citizens.
NDI will contain names, aliases, personal details, along with facial biometrics, and fingerprints.
According to the document, this information will be linked up with government agencies and ministries, including the Inland Revenue Board, law enforcement authorities, the social welfare department, the Election Commission, the National Higher Education Fund Corporation, the labour department, the health ministry, the transport department, the immigration department and the courts.
Coupled with CCTV systems around the country, the NDI can be used in facial recognition systems.
The plan states that this scheme will be rolled out in 2022 after the Personal Data Protection Act is reviewed and amended to “provide greater rights and control over personal data as well as clarity on personal data management using technology”.
The government sees this move as necessary to curb data fraud and enhance the protection of personal rights.
The NDI is intended to be a platform for personal authentication.
It is also intended for use in banking and other online transactions.
The plan argues that this measure is extremely important to enhance government efficiency for service delivery and online transactions. It is argued that the NDI will enhance government transparency.
One of the greatest concerns is security. A recent report alleges that the personal data of Malaysian citizens aged 23 to 43 held by the national registration department (JPN) has been put up for sale online.
However, if JPN’s myIdentity platform, which contains the personal information of Malaysian citizens, has been breached, the security of the proposed NDI system cannot be guaranteed.
There have been a number of leaks of personal data over the years, despite the existence of the Personal Data Protection Act.
A similar biometric system was implemented by the Thai government in the three southern provinces of Patani, Yala, and Narathiwat as a tool against insurgency.
This was linked to surveillance technology with CCTV systems, biometric data and AI software that can match up and utilise biometric data within the CCTV system, enabling technological surveillance to be conducted on a wide scale throughout the border provinces.
This led to great resistance and suspicion of government intentions by Thai Malays in the region.
Sources informed the author that the Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary Group, which was awarded a 5G telecommunications spectrum licence, is seeking the multi-billion-ringgit contract to develop and operate the national biometric register. The group has interests ranging from Bernas and Johor water to DRB-HICOM and the Tanjung Pelepas port in Johor.
According to Anwar Ibrahim, some of the directors of MySJ Sdn Bhd are linked to the Umno and Bersatu political establishment.
It is necessary for the government to come clean on its future intentions over the use of the MySejahtera app. More importantly, will the NDI system be under the control of the government or political cronies?
Murray Hunter is an independent researcher and former professor with the Prince of Songkhla University and Universiti Malaysia Perlis.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.