Report: Government agencies confused about OSA, fear data manipulation

According to a report, Malaysian government agencies cited the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) 2010 as a reason for not disclosing detailed data. — AFP pic
According to a report, Malaysian government agencies cited the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) 2010 as a reason for not disclosing detailed data. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 ― Malaysian government agencies lack clarity about legislation governing the release of information, expressing particular confusion about the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972 and the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) 2010, a World Bank Group report said.

The Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA) report noted that many government agencies cited the PDPA, even though they are exempted from the law that governs the commercial release and use of information by companies, as a reason for not disclosing detailed data.

“Some key agencies indicated a reluctance for releasing data in the fear that it might be manipulated, misunderstood and misused,” said the ODRA report released yesterday that was prepared by the World Bank with support from the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu) and the Malaysian government.

The ODRA report claimed that the OSA, which governs state secrets, was not being used to actively prevent the release of information in general.

“While the Official Secrets Act itself covers only a small and specific subset of government information, it does provide decentralised authority to all government bodies to further declare information restricted, confidential or secret. In practice, this creates uncertainties about the accessibility of data and information, also in the context of data sharing between government entities,” said the ODRA report.

The report highlighted that Malaysia does not have an access to information law that determines whether data should be made public, except for the state freedom of information enactments in Penang and Selangor under Pakatan, and that various government agencies decided themselves whether or not to release data.

“Despite the above-mentioned national context, generally, agencies in practice do proactively publish information and do entertain requests for information and data from the public and third parties.

“However, these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis at a high level within the government agency structure. Agencies take a cautious approach, and express an awareness of the importance of data security and privacy issues,” said the ODRA report.

The ODRA report noted that data-sharing requests between government agencies were also decided on a case-by-case basis at a high level regardless of previous decisions on similar requests, a decision-making process that it said created silos and uncertainties and was widely perceived as inefficient.

“The currently mandated fees, which applies to certain government agencies, add another layer of difficulty for data to circulate across government agencies and to be freely released to the public,” said the report.

The ODRA report recommended removing fees for data provision if they served no economical purpose, pointing out that according to international evidence, government-to-government fees were a net loss to the government as a whole due to administration and collection costs.

“In this regard, given that revenue generated by sale of data is small, agencies could consider replacing them with revenue from the sale of value-added data services. Examples include data analysis for a particular client, or data collection at the request of a particular client,” said the report.

The report also highlighted the lack of a systematic approach in cataloguing datasets across the whole of government.

“Individual agencies do not publish comprehensive inventories of the data they hold. Individual agencies do not appear to have strong awareness of specific data which might be available from other agencies,” it added.

However, the ODRA report noted that a new government programme concerning an Information Sharing Hub and National Registries was being planned under the 11th Malaysia Plan, aimed at creating an information-sharing coordination mechanism and data exchange infrastructure that would be under Mampu.

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