There are laws that you may be breaking online without your knowledge.
TECHNICAL glitches and Internet security issues are the top tasks for national cyber security specialist centre Cyber Security Malaysia.
Lately, however, the reported incidents they have received are falling more in the difficult-to-define “human behaviour” category, says the centre's responsive services vice-president Adli Abdul Wahid.
“Technical complaints are still high, but we are also getting an increased number of reported incidents connected to behavioural issues,” he tells Sunday Star, “with some of the more frequently asked questions including Is this sue-able?' You read this XXXXX should I be offended?'”
What is clear is that the ever-changing landscape of the Internet means that the legal and ethical lines online are also constantly moving.
The obvious misdemeanours are the illegal downloading and file sharing and the death threats but there are also many common “crimes” that you may be committing unknowingly.
How can you be sued for defamation if no name is mentioned, right?
If rumour about someone is spreading around on the Internet, and you post your two sen on the matter “I knew it! He is like that.” without the name appearing anywhere in your posting, you can still be sued for defamation.
You may say that it is freedom of speech but to the person concerned it is defamation, and he or she can file a suit against you.
Basically, you cannot accuse someone of something without concrete evidence.
Injunctions a ban on making comments on a person's private life are also becoming popular among the rich and famous. Although the gag order is often targeted at the media, the average person on Twitter and Facebook will still need to be careful about making comments if they don't want to be taken to court.
Religion, race and politics topics that you are advised not to take to the dining table are also generally off limits on the Internet in Malaysia.
While the laws governing these national security issues are sometimes vague something that is acceptable to some are offensive to others, so the police will take action if they receive reports from the public.
As Adli puts it, there are unwritten rules where you don't comment about these issues publicly, and public includes the Internet and the mobile phone network (text messages are also not advisable).
“Many social network providers do not have filters (so) they will not stop you from committing the mistakes in the first place. You hope that you could be alerted if you say something that will get you into trouble and delete it before anyone sees it. Unfortunately, you will not (be alerted),” he says.
Instead, more social media network and telecommunications providers are carrying disclaimers stating they will not be held responsible for any crime committed via their network. They will also not hesitate to share evidence with the authorities.
If you receive a racy picture or video in your e-mail, don't be too quick to share it with your colleagues. Internet pornography is not yet a crime in Malaysia (it is, however, illegal to sell or possess pornographic material and carries a fine of up to RM10,000) but it is against the policy and ethics of most companies, and may even get you sacked.
Child pornography is governed by international laws, so if you post or forward any picture and video of children in indecent poses, you will be counted as a criminal.
These days with over-zealous parents posting and sharing pictures of their children in various kinds of poses and states of undress online, you may need to be extra careful that no moral lines are crossed.
It usually starts innocently. You finally find your primary school classmate on Facebook and you become enthralled by all the latest information on the friend. Before you know it, that excitement has become an obsession you keep going back to check on the friend's photos and updates every 10 minutes.
“It is an interesting concept in the e-world. We keep our distance in the physical world but in the cyber world what is the personal space?” poses Adli.
If you do not like someone, he says, you will automatically keep your distance and if you see that person hovering around your house, you may get worried and inform the authorities.
Online, this concept is a bit more vague, he concedes, and it is difficult to trace the “silent” follower. “Most of us will not like it if we have someone following us all the time and writing on our wall, commenting on various things.”
Adli believes these issues will be defined and checked as we evolve in the cyber world. For now, though, the individual will have to practise self-monitoring.
“If people are warning you not to follow them or are un-friending' you, then you know that you may have crossed the line. Or if you have been blocked, so you create a new profile under a pseudonym or nickname to be his or her friend, then you know that you have a problem. Sometimes you may just need to get a life,” Adli says.
These days, it is rare not to see camera phones clicking and blinking away at private functions and public events, from concerts to talks, seminars, forums and baby showers.
“The issue is that most of the time people do it without getting permission,” Adli says.
“Then they upload the pictures onto the Net without realising the consequences of making the content public. Will it backfire on the individual concerned?”
At forums and talks, the speaker may be saying confidential things that he or she does not want to be made public, says Adli. In some cases it may be a copyright infringement for example, some musicians state clearly on the back of their concert tickets and at venue entrances that recording is prohibited.
It is also a question of etiquette: you don't go to someone's house, take spontaneous photos of them in compromising situations or embarrassing poses and then upload the pictures without their permission.
Sometimes people underestimate the number of those who will view the pictures and videos, says Adli.
And all the fancam videos online? They may not be “legal” either, so be careful about sharing them.
Said to be the current rage online, fraping is signing into someone else's Facebook page and changing their status.
Although many insist that they do it for fun, this is basically account hijacking and is illegal.
A harmless prank can sometimes have harmful consequences: for example, your boss may see your false status and take disciplinary action against you, or a potential employer may think twice after seeing the photo that you have been falsely tagged in.
At the very least, your Facebook account may be closed for being against the social media network's terms of service, and you lose all your data.
“A bad day at work.” This Facebook status update caused a father of three in Britain his job. His argument that he did not mention the name of his company was deemed as irrelevant. As the industrial court judge ruled, his FB friends knew where he worked!
He was told that the comments breached his company's “social networking policy” and could “damage the reputation of the company”.
So, even though it is not illegal, many companies now restrict the use of social media network during working hours, as well as monitor their employees' work “grumbles”.
“Even though you don't mean anything by it, your postings can affect the organisation's reputation or stock prices,” warns Adli, adding that it is legally binding if you have signed the company's Standard Operating Procedure.
There have also been many incidents related to social media network which involve people posting corporate secrets or giving out information that is supposed to be confidential to their company or privy to a certain number of people, he says.
One is through photos of restricted areas at some companies.
Many people are caught unaware when they upload photos of themselves taken in supposedly restricted areas.
A growing issue now, Adli highlights, is the leak of company secrets through personal devices such as pen drives.
“Now organisations are allowing employees to bring their own devices, which are usually used for both corporate information and personal data. Many also share these devices with their family members.
“If you or your family members do not follow the best practices online, or if the computer is compromised, then it may cause information leaks. You need to make sure that you comply with your company's policy,” he says.
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