Government must explain purchase and use of spyware
8 July 2015
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern reports that Malaysian enforcement authorities and the Prime Minister’s Office have acquired intrusion or malicious spyware from Hacking Team, a notorious Italian company known for dealings with repressive regimes or states with dubious human rights records.
It is highly questionable whether the use of spyware to tap into phones and computers are constitutional or even legal as it amounts to a most serious breach of privacy, a right recognised as being part of “personal liberty” in Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.
Spyware enables access to the hacked computer’s or phone’s emails, text messages, files from applications like Facebook, Viber, Skype, or WhatsApp, contacts, and call history. It also allows authorities controlling the spyware to turn on the device’s camera or microphone to take pictures or record conversations without the owner’s knowledge.
Such arbitrary and unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of individuals can also be criminal in nature as confidential data including passwords, banking and credit card details and even intimate pictures can be collected or even filmed remotely.
While the authorities may justify the use of spyware to investigate serious criminal offences including terrorism, there is a severe lack of trust that they will limit the spyware use to specific and genuine criminal cases but will also use them to spy on opposition and dissidents for politically motivated matters. How else can one explain the PM’s Office’s reported acquisition of spyware?
The use of spyware is highly intrusive and rightly regarded as a serious breach of privacy and further interferes with freedom of expression as individuals would be fearful to express themselves even privately, not knowing if and when the state is watching and listening.
Such spying undermines the very nature of our democratic society, one that is governed by the Constitution guaranteeing personal liberties, rule of law and legal processes, not a ‘Big Brother’ authoritarian state where every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities.
We therefore call upon the government to immediately explain the spyware purchases and their applications and further explain as to what oversight mechanisms have been put in place to ensure they are not abused or used arbitrarily.
We also call upon the authorities to adopt a clear, accessible, comprehensive, and non-discriminatory legislative framework to regulate all surveillance conducted by law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
Lawyers for Liberty
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