AP“It wasn't me.” That's the most common response from people when a hate or threatening message is traced to their Facebook or Twitter or any other Internet account.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission says it is almost legally impossible to take action if all that a person has to do is to deny any responsibility.
“Think of the victims. People who have been slandered or whose lives have been threatened,” commission chairman Mohamed Sharil Mohamed Tarmizi said, adding that many a time cyber bullies and stalkers who often use “the cloak of anonymity” have got away because of lack of evidence.
“As more of the young are connected online, who is going to watch over these kids when there are real people who want to harm them?” he said in an interview on the amendment to the Evidence Act passed by the Dewan Rakyat last month.
Answering critics who said the amendment was unfair in pushing the burden of proof to the accused, he said that owners of Internet accounts where hate messages had originated could easily rebut charges against them if they were innocent.
“For example, if you can produce witnesses to say that you were nowhere near your computer or any other communicating device at the time the message was sent out, you can get off,” Sharil said.
He added: “It is not easy nailing offenders to the charge. Sometimes you can find evidence and sometimes you can't.
“At least now (with the amendment), a flat denial (from the accused) cannot work anymore.”
The amendment to Section 114(a) of the Evidence Act includes the following stipulations:
> If your name, photograph or pseudonym appears on any publication depicting yourself as the author, you are deemed to have published the content.
> If a posting comes from your Internet or phone account, you are deemed to be the publisher unless the contrary is proved.
> If you have the control or custody of any computer which published any material, you are presumed to be the publisher unless proven otherwise.
Asked if the amendment infringed on Internet users' personal liberties, Sharil said the authorities would still have to carry out rigorous and thorough investigations before charging anyone.
“Then there is the trial processs to go through,” he added.
He admitted that the conviction rate of suspected cyber offenders was very low.
From 2009 to 2011, 625 cases of people making obscene or offensive comments via the Internet or phone were investigated.
Only 16 were brought to court and just three were convicted.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Aziz said it was difficult to prosecute offenders before the amendment to the Act.
“It was especially difficult to prosecute offenders because the servers were located overseas.
“Everything was in a mess,” he said, and denied that the amendment was to curb dissent.
“The Government does not want to stifle anyone. But we don't want people to slander or threaten others,” Nazri added