Internet control law may restrict information access, say Facebook and Google

Rights groups and Opposition leaders have spoken against the Bill against online fake news, claiming it was yet another piece of draconian legislation meant to stifle dissent. — A
Rights groups and Opposition leaders have spoken against the Bill against online fake news, claiming it was yet another piece of draconian legislation meant to stifle dissent. — A

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — Legislation aimed at controlling the internet risks curbing access to information and the exchange of ideas, a group representing Facebook and Google in the region said.

Asia Internet Coalition, which represents internet companies such as the two tech giants, said it shared the government’s desire to make the internet safer and better, but applying a prescriptive law to deal with a complex issue like false information could curtail freedom.

AIC representatives had met with Minister in Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, in Parliament on Monday to discuss the government’s plan to introduce a Bill against fake news, which the latter claimed received a “positive response”.

“We share the government’s stated desire to work together to make the internet safer and better,” AIC said in an email reply to Malay Mail.

“We believe that prescriptive legislation designed to control the exchange of information will not adequately address the issue of false news effectively since discerning whether information is ‘true’ or ‘false’ can be highly subjective and risk compromising access to information and legitimate exchange of ideas,” it added.

Rights groups and Opposition leaders have spoken against the Bill, claiming it was yet another piece of draconian legislation meant to stifle dissent.

Critics have also questioned the timing, noting that Putrajaya had planned to table the Bill ahead of the 14th general elections. Speculation is rife that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak may call for elections in the next 60 days.

The final draft of the Bill is expected to be completed in a week’s time, Azalina had said.

The AIC did not state if it supported the Bill, but encouraged more dialogue “to ensure a fair and balanced outcome of any legislative efforts in this area.”

It also suggested that Putrajaya continuously collaborate with the news industry to find solutions to fake news .

The King’s speech during the opening of the 2018 parliamentary session, which outlines the government’s policies and proposed legislation for the new parliamentary session, said a law to regulate fake news was timely.

A special committee to draft laws to curb fake news was formed on January 30, following an announcement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that new legislation was needed to curb the menace that purportedly threatened multiracial and multireligious Malaysia’s harmony.

The committee includes representatives from the police, Attorney-General’s Chambers, National Security Council, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, the Legal Affairs Division, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, and also non-governmental organisations and MPs.

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