07 June 2012

The newly-inserted Section 114A of the Evidence Act is another example of a law that was rushed through Parliament without much debate and discussion, to the detriment of us all.

AS often happens, e-mails pop up in my inbox with interesting headlines. While I usually save them to read later, I had to open this particular e-mail immediately because it had my name in it.
To my horror, I found an article purportedly written by me being circulated to much salutary praise.
Normally, I would either ignore it or leave it to readers to judge whether I really wrote such an article.
It would be obvious, I thought, to those who have followed my columns all these years that the style in that article, the photo byline notwithstanding, was definitely very different from mine.
Indeed, the reason I was passed the article was because some people who are very familiar with my writing style had their suspicions.
But I cannot rely solely on the goodwill of my readers anymore. With the new amendment to the Evidence Act 1950 which just came into being – it won’t matter if my so-called “article” was full of grammar and spelling mistakes which I wouldn’t normally make – I would be deemed as having written it until I can prove otherwise.
The newly inserted Section 114A of the Evidence Act provides for the following:
> Owners, hosts, administrators, editors or sub-editors of websites or social media accounts are deemed responsible for any content that has been published or re-published on their site whether by themselves, persons impersonating them or any other persons;
> Subscribers of a network service which was used to publish or re-publish any content are deemed responsible for the publication; and
> Owners or individuals in custody of an electronic device that was used to publish or re-publish any content are deemed responsible for the publication.
Basically, this means that until you can prove you are innocent of these charges, you are considered by the law as guilty.
This is a complete reversal of the usual “innocent until proven guilty” axiom in most courts of law.
You can imagine the chill that went through my spine when I read this law. Over the years, not only have I been impersonated in articles and comments but also in real life.
Now all of these people will be encouraged to do more because of this law. They will know that I will have to spend so much time, energy and expense to fight to prove my innocence in the courts that they will get away pretty much scot-free.
Furthermore, while I’m trying to prove that I didn’t write these articles, they can continue to keep writing them with impunity.
Who, therefore, is this law meant to protect? And how could such a law have been passed?
Once again, this is another example of a law that was rushed through Parliament without much debate and discussion, to the detriment of us all.
More importantly, it is a huge threat to the freedom of speech that is enshrined in our Federal Con­stitution, a freedom already threatened by so many other laws.
The Government is hoping that this new law will curb postings by anonymous bloggers and commentators who are critical of the Government. Which may sound well-intentioned; I am also a target of many of these.
But, at the same time, this law is more far-reaching because it makes owners of blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts responsible for anything that appears on them.
If someone posts an anonymous comment on my blog or Facebook page that somebody else does not like, then I’m instantly responsible for it even if I don’t know who the poster is in real life.
It can also work the other way round. Anyone can pretend to be a government official or politician and make a critical or defamatory posting on a government or political website.
Actually, there can be lots of such postings on any website and the owner, including presumably the Government, will be held responsible for them.
I’m not even sure what can be done by anyone to seek redress for that. Talk about an incentive to spam people with all sorts of nasty comments!
It makes you wonder how laws are made in this country. Already one law, the Election Offences Act, had to be retracted after it had been passed because it was found to be detrimental to all sides in an election.
Surely this was a result of not giving the law enough scrutiny and debate in Parliament. If more time had been given, then surely such faulty laws would not have been passed in such a form.
Doesn’t this also make you worry about the other laws passed in such a hurry as well? What traps lurk within them that we don’t know about, and which we could unknowingly get caught in?