The idea of holding service providers responsible for the actions of their users is pretty absurd. Mostly because a website owner or ISP has very little control over what their users do, and to hold the providers responsible for potentially harmful or illegal actions of users would be akin to holding a hammer manufacturer or hardware store responsible when someone kills someone else with a hammer.
Of course this hasn't stopped people from attempting to drag service providers into legal complaints. For instance, we have the occasions when Twitter
is sued for the actions of its users because it is mistakenly thought to be the publisher of the tweets. Or when the entertainment industry wants to hold Google
responsible for Android apps that may allow for file sharing. There are many many more stories like these. Luckily, courts and most law makers understand that service providers cannot or should not be held liable for the actions of their users. Most, anyway.
Has alerted us to a recent law passed in Malaysia that would hold everyone from the website to the ISP to the coffee house with open wifi to the owner of a borrowed computer responsible for the online postings of a single person
Section 114A of the bill seeks “to provide for the presumption of fact in publication in order to facilitate the identification and proving of the identity of an anonymous person involved in publication through the internet.” In other words, the section makes it easier for law enforcement authorities to trace the person who has uploaded or published material posted online.
According to the amended law, however, the originators of the content are those who own, administer, and/or edit websites, blogs, and online forums. Also included in the amendment are persons who offer webhosting services or internet access. And lastly, the owner of the computer or mobile device used to publish content online is also covered under section 114A.
This language had the internet-using public in Malaysia in an uproar, and they protested this law in much the same fashion as the protests over SOPA and ACTA. When these protests were finally heard, the Prime minister had the law reviewed, but to no avail.
When the petition was ignored by the government, netizens and media groups organized an online blackout on August 14, which succeeded in mobilizing thousands of internet users. The global attention which the action generated was likely what convinced the Prime Minister to agree to have the cabinet review the controversial amendments. Although this announcement was initially welcomed by opponents of the amendments, the Cabinet ultimately upheld the amended law.
As we know, these kinds of laws have a strong potential for abuse -- one of the primary reasons US citizens opposed SOPA and CISPA. Giving a government the ability to prosecute a whole string of people only tenuously connected to a potential crime is a recipe for disaster. It will open up the ability for the government to stifle free speech even if it doesn't have to lift a finger. What will happen is that sites will now over-filter comments to avoid liability. Businesses that offered free wifi will potentially cut the service in an effort to avoid prosecution. This law will cause damage to the ability of Malaysian citizens to communicate freely over the internet.
This move to apply such harsh secondary liability is nothing surprising from a nation that supports internet filters which it promises
will not be used to punish political dissent
. Or the country whose courts, as part of a sentence for defamation, ordered a man to post his apology 100 times on Twitter
. With the record that Malaysia has on internet freedom, it is no surprise that the outcome was what it was. However, we hope that the citizens of Malaysia continue their protests, and that those who support and passed this law will repeal it.