To be fair, the basic intention of the bill is praiseworthy. Terrorism is indeed a problem and we need solutions. This blog post isn't written to go against that basic intention, but rather to question the manner in which that basic intention is being carried out in action. Moreover, we already have anti-terrorism laws in place.
As a concern citizen of Malaysia, I can't help but to force myself to read up on the bill and it is uncomfortable for me to dive into any legal document since it is not my cup of tea, the language is very dry, the terminologies can be a bit and the text is usually long. Ask yourself if you've ever read the terms and conditions of an agreement before clicking on the "I agree" button. See? My point exactly.
However, this bill is slightly different than not reading the Apple's T&C whenever you are updating your iPhone software. This bill has to do with giving our leaders enormous amount of power over our basic rights as people of the nation. It is direct effects on us, so whether we like it or not, we should take heed.
The full text of the bill can be accessed here: NSC Bill 2015, the gist of which can be seen illustrated in the diagram below:
I read the bill not as someone who has a lot of knowledge in the Malaysian legislative system, but as an average citizen of Malaysia. I am using the press release by The Malaysian Bar as my interpretation guide.
As an average citizen, I have at least 3 main concerns that I wish will be properly addressed by the government.
Concern #1: It Took Only 2 Days to Pass the Bill
The bill was tabled on Dec. 1st and by Dec. 3rd, it passed.
It is a bit disturbing that a law designed to restrict our freedom and liberty (even if it is for the purpose of security) took lesser time to consider than the time I took to consider marrying my wife. One has to wonder how thorough and fair did the people involved go over all the details of the bill.
I completely understand the seriousness of the matter at hand i.e. national security, and I understand the need for an immediate action to be taken place. At the same time, we have to balance it out with the short-term and long-term consequences of such a bill.
The power that would be given to the council is huge and the limitations imposed on the people are great. Considering that the council will have the upper hand over the people, how much of the people's voices are heard within those two days?
I would imagine such a controversial bill would arouse a much needed debate. The debate would go over every bit of detail of the bill and the counterarguments given against it. Surely, such a debate wouldn't last only two days.
Concern #2: Vague Terminologies are Used in the Bill
Language is malleable. You can say one thing but people can understand it in many different ways. There are times when it is okay to have a room for interpretation, but when it comes to a law as powerful as the one proposed in the bill, we would expect that room to be constricted as much as possible.
Clear definitions must be set in place so that we know where the lines are, and so that we know not to cross those lines. But when vague terminologies are used, those lines are blurred or worse, determined by the people who are reading them.
For example, as pointed out by the Malaysian Bar, the term "national security" is not clearly defined in the bill. That doesn't make sense to me, since national security is the foundation upon which that bill is standing on. Heck, it is in the name! How can something so fundamental to the bill be unclear?
If there is not clear definition of national security set in the bill, then who has the power to determine what constitutes a threat to national security? Is peaceful protest considered a threat to national security? Is being critical of the government considered a threat to national security? Is disagreement with the prime minister considered a threat to national security?
If you say to me that you will punch me in the face if I act stupidly and I have no say in the matter, then I am interested to know what actions qualify under that term "stupid". If no clear definition is outlined, then anything I do can be interpreted as stupid, therefore you can always justify punching me in the face.
With the presence of vague texts and the absence of a sound methodology of interpretation, one can pretty much justify anything with this bill. Ironically, that is the kind of modus operandi used by terrorists to interpret religious texts to suit their agendas.
Concern #3: Apparent Lack of Accountability Outlined in the Bill
This is the most worrying of them all.
With great power, comes great responsibility. Why? Because of the possible damage such a power is able to inflict. When a person is put in a position of power without supervision, that creates a fertile ground for abuse of power.
We should not underestimate the power of the situation. The situation can alter our behaviours, and even our attitudes about something. The famous Stanford Prison Experiment illustrated the power of the situation perfectly, where ordinary people could inflict unthinkable harm to others because they were in a situation of having unsupervised power.
What guarantee do we have that the members of the council, and the security forces within a security area would not abuse this power?
This bill doesn't sufficiently outline an accountability system to ensure any possible abuse of power is eliminated, or at the very least, minimized. Instead, the bill leaves a dangerous room for abuse of power to take place.
When you are suggesting that you are going to have the power to restrict people's basic rights to freedom and liberty, then you owe to the people a guarantee that you will be responsible in doing so - if you have a valid reason to have such power in the first place.
Part of being responsible is being accountable. When there is a specific clause in the bill outlining that the members of the council and members of the security forces within a security area are protected against lawsuits and legal proceedings, that should raise an eyebrow or two.
Isn't such a clause remove accountability from the equation?
You are telling me that you have the power to "legally" break into my home, seize my properties, frisk me, arrest me, and use physical force, but I don't even have the power to take you to court when my rights are violated?
Look, I am all for national security. I love this country - the good, the bad, and the ugly. The things I write aren't motivated by any political agenda nor is it motivated by any type of hate towards an individual or a group. Rather, they are motivated by sincere concern as an average citizen.
It is rather odd that a bill intended to provide national security, doesn't leave you feeling that secured even if you are not doing anything wrong.