Don’t become an ‘accidental’ outlaw

(The Star) – WITH one update status on Facebook, a university student instantly became a wanted man.

To the Universiti Sains Malaysia student, it was a mere joke; but to the authorities, his posting on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that read “najib is coming to our campus… let’s bomb his helicopter…” was a real security threat.

The Police immediately hauled him in for questioning on criminal intimidation suspicion under Section 506 of the Penal Code.

Adli Abdul Wahid, Cyber Security Malaysia’s responsive services vice-president, says there are many who think they can do and say whatever they want on the Internet.

“Many people still vent their anger or rant, without thinking, on the Internet, and joke about things they should not like bomb or death threats,” he says, categorising the “culprits” as those with malicious intent or are just plain nave.

Unfortunately for many, he adds, the law does not excuse naivety. “You say you were doing it for fun and had no malicious intent, but you are still in the wrong as the Internet is viral.”

As blogger and founder of Eddie Law once noted, many take the www header to mean “wild, wild, west”.

What many need to realise fast is that cyberspace is not lawless. It is in fact governed by the same legislation as in the real world, says Adli.

“There are many laws that are applicable to cyber crimes, even though there is no cyber in its name, such as the Defamation Act, Sedition Act, Penal Code, the former Internal Security Act… And even if you are not bound by Malaysian law (for certain activities), you may be bound by the international laws,” he cautions.

And thanks to the ever-shifting perimeters of the Internet and its proliferation of content, the rules of conduct online are changing more rapidly than we realise.

We may be breaking the law more often than we think, warned British not-for-profit registry service Nominet in their project. It said many Brits became accidental outlaws for forwarding text messages that incited public disorder in the London Riots last year. They had tweeted about the “awesome”-ness of the riots and Facebooked about their riot looting.

According to Nominet, one of the reasons for this is the lack of awareness and understanding of the country’s cyber laws as well as the nature of the Internet.

The situation is not too far off in Malaysia. A few days after the first bomb threat arrest, another student was detained for posting death threats on the PM. (She later claimed that her Facebook account was hacked.)

“It is advisable for Malaysians to know the cyber laws of Malaysia. Just because many people are doing something, that does not mean that it is right like sharing content or forwarding e-mail messages and posting insulting comments. If you are vigilant in the physical world, you should be so in the cyber world,” Adli advises.

Undoubtedly there are those who think that if they use a fake identity, they can say and do whatever they want online, Adli says.

“Even if you use an Ipin and Upin photo as your profile photo, the authorities can trace you. Everyone has a digital footprint; anything we do online can be traced. Even if you create another persona, the other information might lead back to you information on common friends and events may pinpoint your real identity. And unless you are a hi-tech skilled person, you will not be able to cover your tracks and bypass the detectors.”

He opines that the biggest crimes online are cyber-harassment and cyber bullying, and as more and more people get online, the number will grow.

The challenge is to draw the line between what is acceptable, inappropriate and illegal with the dynamism of the Internet.

Adli believes Netizens should also be guided by basic etiquette and ethics.

“For example, you don’t write your friend’s mobile phone number on toilet walls, so you should not expose your friend’s number on the social media networks either. Or if you will not insult people to their face, so online you should not do it either.”

He stresses that the Internet was created for people to learn and have good experiences but many are misusing it now.

“You need to make sure that you are safe being a Net citizen and at the same time you need to control yourself from abusing the Net and causing people harm or discomfort.

“Don’t disrupt the ecosystem of the Internet as a fun and a safe place.”