Ensuring safer content for users

PETALING JAYA: There should be more control over social media platforms like Telegram which have been blamed for the spread of harmful content, say cybersecurity experts.

While there is a call for Telegram to be banned altogether, other experts want the government to keep pushing for application operators for assurances that they can tackle negative content in their platform.

Prof Dr Mohamed Ridza Wahiddin said the refusal by Telegram, a Dubai-based messaging application, to meet to discuss important national security issues with Malaysian authorities is an indication that its operators are not serious in addressing them.

“Telegram should be banned with immediate effect. We should send a message to them that we mean business,” he said.

Mohamed Ridza, who is the Academy of Sciences Malaysia’s Information Technology and Computer Science fellow, said Malaysians should use other forms of messaging platforms that provide better security.

“We need to protect those among us who are easily exploited,” he added.

Mohamed Ridza was responding to news reports that Telegram refused to cooperate with the Communications and Digital Ministry, with the platform citing it does not participate in any form of political censorship.

Telegram said it has been actively moderating harmful content on its platform, including the sale of illegal substances and pornography.

The ministry had extended an invitation to Telegram since January to address security issues faced by its users.

Last Saturday, Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil said Telegram may face action if its operators continue to ignore the ministry’s call for it to take remedial measures to improve the security for the app’s users.

Fong Choong Fook, executive chairman of LGMS Bhd, a specialist cybersecurity testing firm, said any scamming activities and spread of illegal content such as pornography are not restricted to Telegram.

He added that the authorities should observe any online platforms that refuse to cooperate in overcoming user security issues, but the government must also thread a fine line.

“In China, the authorities there forbid any use of foreign online applications, which is good from the national security standpoint, but not great on the basis of the freedom of speech for users,” he said.

Fong said what the government can do is to provide a balance between concerns over security and freedom of information.

Several politicians, including former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, had fallen victim to scams and hacking activities involving Telegram.

TikTok, Twitter and Facebook previously had agreed to cooperate with the government via the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in addressing similar concerns.

Previously, social media users claimed photos of children were circulated using Telegram channels for alleged “sexual content purposes”.

The channels were quickly removed or deleted by the moderators, hampering efforts by the authorities to investigate the matter further.

Lawyer Nizam Bashir Abdul Kariem Bashir said Sections 211 and 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 that regulate offensive content on the Internet are adequate to address such illegal spread of content in Telegram or other online platforms.

He, however, said there should be more clarity to Sections 211 and 233 of the Act.

“There have been criticisms against the two Sections of the Act whereby Section 211 does not meet the test of legality; and do not pursue legitimate grounds.

“The restrictions in Section 211 and 233 are disproportionate principally due to a lack of clarity in the provision. For example, the word ‘obscene’ is not defined in the Act.”

Nizam said the government can consider regulating messaging platforms to tackle issues like scams sensibly once the criticism to the two sections have been addressed.

“This (proposed regulation) must also take into account the ‘No Censorship’ guarantee as envisaged by Section 3(3) of the Act,” he added.

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