OVER the weekend when two women separately recounted their experiences with police officers at roadblocks, the main issue raised has been about sexual harassment – rightly so. Both women said a police officer had recorded their personal details, including phone numbers. One of the women recounted that she had informed the police officer that she was on the way to buy some groceries. A few minutes later she received a message from the police officer asking her if she had finished her shopping while identifying as himself as the policeman who had stopped her at the roadblock.When she asked if there was an issue, the police officer replied, “Nothing. Can I get to know you?”Clearly, the police officer had misused personal information of the woman. If the information had been given to say, a bank officer in the course of a transaction that is commercial in nature, it would have been protected under the Personal Data Protection Act 2010 (PDPA).Names, IC numbers, passport numbers, personal phone number, home address, email address and bank account numbers are data protected under the PDPA which imposes strict requirements on any person who collects or processes personal data, who are called data users.The PDPA also grants individual rights to “data subjects”, who are individuals to whom personal data belong. The women above are data subjects. So are we in respect of our personal data.The PDPA is based on a set of data protection principles applying in the European Union (EU) then, namely Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC of the EU which went into effect in 1995. For this reason, the PDPA is often described as European-style privacy law.But that – much outdated – directive has been replaced by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) adopted by the EU in April 2016.Now, the PDPA also has an important limitation. It does not apply to the federal government and state governments.By comparison, in the United Kingdom (UK) the Data Protection Act 2018, which implements the GDPR in the UK, applies to “public authority” and “public body” for the purposes of protecting personal data, requiring personal data to be processed lawfully and fairly, on the basis of the data subject’s consent or another specified basis, among others.Public authority is defined to include the police. (see Schedule 1, Freedom of Information Act 2000)In Singapore, data management in the public sector is governed by the Public Sector (Governance) Act 2018 and the Government Instruction Manual on IT Management. The Personal Data Protection Act 2012 on the other hand, applies to the private sector. Two different legal frameworks governing data management in the public and private sectors are said to be needed because there are different expectations of the services provided by the government and the private sector.Clearly, there is a need to review personal data protection law in Malaysia – if the law is to be described as European-style privacy law. – February 16, 2021.* Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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