KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 — The Cyber Security Bill 2024 could grant the government excessive powers that could be abused to curtail freedom of expression and media online, said rights group Article 19.

In a statement, Article 19 said that any legislation on ‘cybercrime’ must fully comply with international human rights standards, in particular, those on the right to freedom of expression and privacy.

“Article 19 is gravely concerned about the speedy passing of the Bill, as it will be a mechanism for government censorship of online expression.

“It will give the government unaccountable control of computer-related activities, as well as nearly unlimited search and seizure powers.

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“Its criminal provisions do not require any actual intent to violate, effectively introducing many strict liability offences.

“As such, it is part of the alarming regional trend toward increasingly repressive cyber security regulations, which must be reversed,” it said in a statement published in their website.

Yesterday, Dewan Negara unanimously passed the Cyber Security Bill 2024 after the third reading by Digital Minister Gobind Singh Deo.

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The Bill was tabled for the first reading on March 25 and approved by the Dewan Rakyat on March 27.

Yesterday, Dewan Negara unanimously passed the Cyber Security Bill 2024 after the third reading by Digital Minister Gobind Singh Deo. — Bernama pic
Yesterday, Dewan Negara unanimously passed the Cyber Security Bill 2024 after the third reading by Digital Minister Gobind Singh Deo. — Bernama pic

Article 19 pointed out that the existing Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) has already been used against journalists, human rights defenders, and land rights defenders.

“The broad language of the (latest) Bill will likely be abused to further restrict online freedom of expression and dissent in the country,” it said.

Article 19 said it identified several issues with the Bill where it will create a system for broad control of digital services in Malaysia and also could capture journalistic activities and target whistleblowers.

It also said that the Bill would require prior licensing of a wide range of expressive activities and will provide for search and seizure powers not subject to judicial or other independent review.

“These broad powers are particularly concerning as Malaysia has seen an increasingly repressive climate in recent years. 444 cases had been opened under CMA Section 233 from 2020 through January 2023, including 38 prosecutions, 31 convictions, and several ongoing trials,” it said.

Article 19 also questioned the need for the law when the world is debating an international convention on cybercrime at the United Nation (UN) level, which included Malaysia.

“While Article 19 and numerous human rights organisations have taken serious issue with the UN negotiations and current draft text of the proposed convention, we note that the Bill falls far short of even that standard.

Article 19 also strongly believed that the Bill is unnecessary and urged the government to withdraw the Bill before the royal accent to address the shortcomings identified above to ensure the compatibility of any cybercrime legislation with international standards of freedom of expression.

“We also encourage the proposal to be tabled in anticipation of any outcomes of the ongoing UN cybercrime convention negotiations. We stand ready to provide further assistance in this process,” it said.

“We repeat our urgent call for Malaysia to renew its commitment to human rights by signing and ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as other major international human rights treaties, as well as to repeal or amend all laws restricting freedom of expression in Malaysia,” it added.