It’s dangerous to let The State decide

  • The Bowerbird Writes
  • Monday, 20 Jan 2020

Will MACC have a big price to pay for the audio revelation? Making it public the way they did is unacceptable.

I AM against any idea that the state has the right to wiretap its citizens. It is downright unethical and unwarranted.

It is dangerous to let the state listen to private conversations, for whatever reason. Big Brother simply has no right to do so.

But we are living in an Orwellian world. It is full of dangerous people – terrorists, anarchists, criminals, corrupt officers and kleptocrats.

They are a menace to society. In some cases, under the pretext of safeguarding society, they are being monitored, watched and wiretapped.

The law of this country allows the police to intercept, listen and record conversations, provided that it gets the authorisation of the public prosecutor.

A provision in the Criminal Procedure Code was hastily amended to allow this by the previous government, which turned out to be senjata makan tuan (literally a weapon that turns against the owner) for the then prime minister.

His private conversations are now released, thanks to the Malaysian Corruption Commission (MACC).

Latheefa Koya is now in hot water trying to explain why the recordings were made public. The debate on who released the recordings is another matter.

But the question is, what provision of the law allows an institution like MACC to reveal those recordings?

What has those recordings got to do with the current corruption cases involving some of the personalities named?

Even if conspiracy of the highest order does exist based on those conversations, should MACC be the one exposing it? Is that the job of its Commissioner?

These are questions that non-lawyers like me are asking. The argument that the tapping is legal or otherwise is not important anymore.

To argue that it was during the ex-PM’s rule that it was made legal for the authorities to tape the tele-conversations, so that the irony should be appreciated, is flawed.

Just because it was right then does not make it right now.

One can hate Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak or his wife, but our outrage for what they did is not a good enough reason to allow the release of their private conversations. It is simply unethical.

Call it the Najib Tapes, as there were the Nixon White House Tapes.

US President Richard Nixon made recordings of all his conversations while he was in office. He taped everyone, including family members.

The sound-activated taping system was first installed in February 1971 and contained 3,000 hours of tapping between 1971 and 1973.

Those tapes did a lot of harm to him. It was the final nail on the coffin when the Watergate Scandal broke out and many hours of those recordings became a smoking gun.

Certainly Najib is not Nixon. He did not tape those recordings. But someone else did. Perhaps if it becomes a court case, MACC will have to reveal those behind the recordings.

It was not just the conspiratorial nature of the content that created a lot of attention, but in one of them, a conversation involving a member of an Arab royal family.

I am sure the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a lot of explaining to do to members of the foreign diplomatic corp.

On the personal level, the last thing you want to be invaded is the conversations with your spouses or partners.

The content can be argumentative, revealing, bragging or full of anger but such conversations must be kept as something sacrosanct in human relations.

The last thing MACC wants at this time is the perception that it is not being impartial and targeting a particular individual at all costs, which I reckon is not the case.

MACC will have to pay a big price for this revelation, for better or worse. Some would argue that with the release of those tapes, many potential whistleblowers would come forth.

But this is not about whistleblowers, neither is it the argument about “trial by media.”

It is simply about respecting the rights of individuals as guaranteed by the law. It is about you and me and our rights as human beings! Our privacy matters!

MACC may have tapes and videos that will prove a certain individual is interfering with the administration of justice or worse.

There are many ways to make use of such incriminating evidence, if at all relevant to them.

But making it public the way they did is totally unacceptable.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. And a diehard rugby fan. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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