The Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) “are allowed to inspect mobile phones to ensure there are no obscene, offensive, or communication threatening the security of the people and nation,” the Dewan Rakyat was told yesterday.
According to a media report from MalaysiaKini, PDRM also have the right to, including “phone bugging” or “tapping” to ensure investigations could be carried out in cases involving security. The article quoted Deputy Home Minister Mohd Azis Jamman who was responding to questions from YB Chan Ming Kai (PH-Alor Star).
The Deputy Home Minister also said that “the public should be aware of their rights during a random check, including requesting the identity of the police officer conducting the search for record purposes, in case there is a breach of the standard operating procedures (SOP),”.
However, details of the “Police SOP” were not revealed.
In 2014, the then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri said that law enforcers (such as PDRM) in the country are empowered under five different laws to tap (wiretap) any communications done by suspects of criminal investigations.
This would include intercepting, confiscating and opening any package sent via post, intercepting any messages sent or received through any means of telecommunication (voice/SMS/Internet); intercept, listen to and record any conversations (phone) over telecommunications networks.
The provisions are found under Section 116C of the Criminal Procedure Code, and also under Section 27A of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, Section 11 of the Kidnapping Act 1961, Section 43 of the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission Act 2009, and Section 6 of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA).
According to Malaysia-Today in a 2013 article, Section 6 (SOSMA) gives the Public Prosecutor the power to authorise any police officer to intercept any postal article, as well as any message or conversation being transmitted by any means at all, if he or she deems it to contain information relating to a “security offence”.
It also gives the Public prosecutor the power to similarly require a communications service provider like telecommunications companies (including Maxis, Celcom Axiata, Telekom Malaysia, Digi, U Mobile, Yes4G and others) to intercept and retain a specified communication, if he or she considers that it is likely to contain any information related to “the communication of a security offence.”
Additionally, it vests the Public Prosecutor with the power to authorise a police officer (PDRM) to enter any premises to install any device “for the interception and retention of a specified communication or communications.”
The Malaysia-Today article said such a scope of what the government can do in terms of intercepting people’s messages is troubling – at least to those who understand its implication.
In particular, there are those who are anxious that it can be used to tap on detractors and political opponents.
“Due to the vagueness and broadness of the ground for executing interception, this provision is surely open to abuse especially against political dissent,” said Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim at the time.
Stressing that the act does not provide any guidelines on the “interception”, he added: “The government can legally ‘bug’ any private communication using any method, including through trespassing to implement the bugging device and there is not stipulated time frame such invasion of privacy is allowed”.
“If that is not enough, service providers such as telcos and internet service providers are compelled by Section 6(2)(a),”
At the moment, the Malaysian Government has not revealed on the number of people/communication it has tapped/intercept in the past decade.
[Update, 20 November 2019]: Deputy Home Minister Datuk Mohd Azis Jamman released a statement saying that the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) can confiscate the cell phones of the suspected and those involved in any ongoing investigation, and not conduct random checks on the public.