Call to make Internet access a constitutional right should be supported — Lawyers for Liberty

JUNE 12 — Lawyers for Liberty supports the recent call by Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo to make Internet access a constitutional right, or at the very least a legal right.

Should this proposal become a reality, Malaysia will be the first Asian country to join the ranks of a growing group of mostly European states such as Estonia, Finland, Spain and France in ensuring that all citizens have a legal right to broadband access. More recently in 2016, the UN Human Rights Council declared Internet access a basic human right.

As has been noted by the Minister, such a move will spur the state and federal governments to improve Internet connectivity infrastructure around the country and propel Malaysia forward into the digital age. These advances will benefit the country, allow citizens more access to information and other freedoms, facilitate online businesses and services, and help in bridging the urban-rural divide further.

It is also necessary to view this development in the context of the many abuses committed by state enforcement agencies especially the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) under the previous administration. Attacks on freedoms of speech, information and the press were commonplace, with many internet users, activists and journalists investigated or prosecuted for ‘offensive’ or seditious online comments. News portals such as The Malaysian Insider, Asia Sentinel and Sarawak Report were also blocked for reporting news unfavourable to the government.

The recognition of Internet access as a basic right will be a significant step forward in preventing such abuses from happening again. In the future, MCMC and other enforcement agencies will have to act more proportionately when deciding whether to block websites or target someone for merely speaking up online, lest they impugn on a constitutional right.

This move by the Minister will propel Malaysia for a more inclusive, efficient and affordable Internet, whilst also preventing further overreach of power by state agencies. If successful, this will be a tremendous step forward in recognising the people’s rights in the digital age, and we wholeheartedly support the Minister’s plan.

*This statement is released by Eric Paulsen, Executive Director, Lawyers for Liberty.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.