Data protection law to balance private, public interests
29th November 2001 (The Star)

KUALA LUMPUR: The upcoming legislation on personal data protection will include provisions to ensure that national and public security interests are protected, according to Energy, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Amar Leo Moggie.

He said that while privacy rights would be enhanced with the introduction of a Personal Data Protection law, "it is important (also) to recognise that individual privacy rights are never absolute."

He said that the individual's privacy rights should always be balanced against competing public and private rights and interests, and indicated that exceptions would be made in enforcing the new law.

"The legislation proposes several exemptions to meet the unique nature and requirement of certain activities and bodies," Moggie said in his address at the Data Protection & Its Far Reaching Implications seminar organised by Jagat Technology Sdn Bhd this morning.

He said that many private and public institutions have requested to be exempted from certain provisions of the proposed Personal Data Protection bill.

But Moggie also cautioned that the extent and level of exemptions needed to be properly determined, as "too many exemptions would render the legislation less effective."

"Some government agencies and departments feel that their work might be hampered (if no exemptions were given)," Moggie told reporters later. "Legitimate national security needs could be the subject of an exemption."

Besides exemptions, the legislation would also propose the establishment of a Commission as a regulatory body that would probably report directly to the Government.

The other option would be to make the Commission answerable directly to Parliament, but Moggie said "our country is not yet at the stage where the Government can be left out of the loop."

The Personal Data Protection legislation is intended to protect the privacy of personal data and information, both those physically residing in computer systems and those transmitted over networks and the Internet.

It is the latest in a series of cyberlaws to be introduced in tandem with the ongoing development of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).

Cyberlaws that have been enacted so far are the Digital Signature Act 1997, Copyright Act (Amendment) 1997, Computer Crimes Act 1997, Telemedicine Act 1997, and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

Malaysia has been one of the more prolific countries in introducing cyberlaws, but the speed at which such legislation has been drafted passed has, at times, left the enforcement aspect trailing.

However, Moggie said that local law enforcement authorities have been steadily building up expertise in these areas over the last few years, although cybercrimes and other related criminal activity "have not been a major problem for us."

"The police have been increasing their capacity to handle issues like computer crimes; others like the Courts will too, but all of us will need time to adjust," he said.

The drafting of the new law has involved gathering comments and inputs from various parties in the private and public sector.

"The response from the public, which include representatives from industries and consumer associations, NGOs (non-government organisations), civil servants and other individuals, has been overwhelming," said Moggie.

The final draft of the new law is scheduled to be completed by March next year.