Overall, privacy rights are ill-recognized under Malaysian law. There is no right of privacy in the 1956 Constitution and at least one court case has ruled against finding it based on the lack of the recognition of privacy in the English Common law. The government response to the 2007 Privacy International annual index of surveillance countries (which found Malaysia had a quite low ranking) said that there was no need to adopt a privacy law as current laws were sufficient.
There is no data protection law in Malaysia. A draft data protection bill has been under development from the government since 1998. Periodically, the government claims that the draft will be released and adopted in the near future but to date, nothing has happened.
Privacy of communications is also routinely abused. The Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 prohibits illegal interception of communications. The Internal Security Act gives the government strong powers to search and seize without a court order and is often used to suppress dissent. Under the Computer Crimes Act, users can be forced to turn over their encryption keys. Deputy energy, water, and communications minister Shaziman Abu Mansor proposed in 2007 that all bloggers would have to register their details before they would be allowed to publish on the Internet.
Mobile users were required to register their phones in 2005.
Malaysia has implemented an expansive ID card system called the MYKad. It is used for multiple purposes including driving, health care and cash systems and has been promoted to the private sector for additional purposes. It is asked for just about every kind of transaction including in Cybercafes. The Court of Appeals in 2005 refused to remove religion from ID card after someone changed religion.
The DNA Identification Bill was introduced into Parliament in 2008 with the intent of adopting it within a week but has not yet been successful. It requires the obtaining of DNA from any person suspected or convicted of a crime and all those found to be drug users. Refusal to provide a DNA sample can result in criminal penalties. The Bill was due to be fastracked through Parliament even though the drafts were kept secret1, which actually gave rise to significant levels of debate2 and 'flak'.3 There was also some discussion as to whether the DNA proposals should go hand-in-hand with a Data Protection Act.4
There is also ongoing conflict over laws which regulate sexual conduct in order to promote religious practices.5 This culminated in the arrest of the opposition leader in July 2008 under accusations of sodomy.6 This also gave rise to concerns about medical privacy, as the medical record of the victim was leaked.7 Religious authorities have also been known to breach the privacy of the home. In one case, 'anti-vice religious authorities' raided a home while a mother was breastfeeding her child, and refused to inform her why they were searching her home.8
- 1. 'Why YOU should oppose the DNA identification Bill', Bernice Low, CNET Asia blog, August 3, 2008.
- 2. 'Debate over DNA databank', Joseph Loh and Rashvinjeet S. Bedi, The Star Online, September 7, 2008.
- 3. 'Genetic Fingerprinting Bill under flak', Baradan Kuppusamy, IPS, September 10, 2008.
- 4. Pros and cons of Malaysia's DNA bill', Sekina Joseph, UPI Asia, September 18, 2008.
- 5. e.g. 'Sisters in Islam hits out at 'tomboy' fatwa, Malaysian Insider, November 25, 2008
- 6. 'Were the Anwar Sodomy Charges Faked, Jed Yoong, Asia Sentinel, July 28, 2008.
- 7. Anwar Sodomy Charges: Doctor's Report', Asia Sentinel, July 28, 2008.
- 8. Wife plans to sue religious dept over vice raid on house', Brenda Lim, New Straits Times, August 15, 2008.