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Will Padu data be misused?

Surely the government has access to other databases if it needs more information about potential recipients of government aid

GERD ALTMANN/PIXABAY

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By Enoch Lim

The premise of this article might seem outlandish at first, but Malaysians need to think about the issues and problems we might face in the long run with the government’s initiative to push citizens to register with Padu, its central database.

My intention is not to cause panic but to highlight the unexplained and possibly unintended consequences of Padu – even if we factor in the best-case scenario, ie the government pledges to use it for the good of the people.

The push to urge Malaysians to register at the Padu website has gone on for months. Authorities cite the benefits and perks the people will receive when they register, especially government aid and subsidies. Padu also aims to increase government efficiency by gathering information about the nation’s socioeconomic conditions and reducing the gaps that exist among the people.

Now, it is perfectly all right, even commendable, for the government to serve and to help the people. Credit must be given where credit is due.

But urging 32 million Malaysians to register with Padu within a certain timeframe or risk not receiving government aid raises eyebrows to me.

The concerns raised by Ayer Hitam MP Dr Wee Ka Siong and Sarawak minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah to review and slow down the registration process for Padu should be applauded.

Let me explain why I won’t be registering with Padu.

First, data redundancy comes to mind. I’m pretty sure much of our personal data is already recorded in various databases when we use government or private services. These databases belong to the banks, hospitals, government-related agencies and institutions (eg the Inland Revenue Board, Employees Provident Fund, Social Security Organisation, PTPTN study loans), social media apps and shopping apps.

Am I supposed to believe that after years of having this data recorded and stored since the inception of the internet in Malaysia, the government is unable to cross-check or double confirm the veracity of users, their current socioeconomic status, their salaries and other necessary data? Why go through all the trouble of gathering such data again if it already exists?

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Furthermore, can the process of data collection be made easier and accessible, especially in rural areas and among older adults or those who are digitally illiterate?

If the government wishes to help the people through Padu, it could start by reaching out to areas where internet accessibility and literacy are low compared to other more developed areas.

Second, the risk of the data being misused for nefarious purposes is just too high. Given Malaysia’s track record of transparency, it is no wonder countless people are asking so many questions about how the data will be used and who will have access to it.

The digital age also comes with bad actors, such as hackers and data brokers, who can get their hands on this data. They might use it for all kinds of crimes such as doxxing and blackmail. Look at what happened with the MySejahtera app data leaks a few years back.

Clearly, I am not convinced and assured at this point that we have qualified people and the proper technology to put in place tight data security measures.

Now, the government has repeatedly assured us that the data will be perfectly secure and it has measures to prevent leaks from falling into the wrong hands.

I am sorry, but I really doubt that. Even with laws in place, such as the Personal Data Protection Act 2010, can they really be effective in safeguarding personal data?

We need to ask hard-hitting questions.

Will the government use this data to monitor us – for example, tracking how we spend our money, whom we give money to and whom we communicate with?

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Will it go to the extent of cutting off aid if it chooses to do so? Will this result in circumstances where the government stops giving certain people incentives and aid if they raise their opposition and grievances to any administration in power?

During this time, when politics in Malaysia is so polarised, what is to stop people within this administration or future ones from suppressing dissent or treating the opposition or dissidents unfavourably? After all, Padu will be around for quite some time.

This might sound speculative, but the biggest danger, I fear, in giving the government our details would be granting it the capacity for them to ‘weaponise’ the data against us.

Until today, we have yet to see a proper explanation and breakdown of the criteria for governmental aid. We have not been presented with the full picture, much to my dismay.

I am reminded of an old political quote: “A government big enough to give you everything has the power to take everything you have as well.” 

Another saying goes: “In the age of technology, data is the new money-making machine.”

The data of the populace in every country is a prized asset today on the world stage. It is because this vast amount of data in cyberspace can be used for many good and bad things, whether commercially or in other ways.

Unfortunately, we are now living in a time where we have traded away our personal privacy for monetary gain or riches. We have paid so little attention to privacy that we may end being exploited by those around us in any way, shape or form, unaware of the dangers that might come.

The budget allocated for the Padu programme is baffling – RM80m sounds just too much. The question then arises: why wouldn’t the government allocate this enormous amount elsewhere for a more pressing need? Surely, the government, after over a year in power, could do so many things with this money. So why has it not worked on other ways to support the national economy?

READ MORE:  Alarm over Padu personal information database

Padu is a weak attempt, a misplaced priority, in addressing the nation’s socioeconomic gaps.

The “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government should prioritise fighting corruption and reducing ‘leaks’ in the government sector instead of wasting resources.

With the wide economic gaps between Sabah and Sarawak compared to the peninsula, can the government really get a full and accurate picture of the people’s livelihoods and financial status?

Why not prioritise development and the investment side of things instead of resorting to mere welfarism with extra steps?

My conclusion is simple. I cannot in conscience allow more of my personal details to be known by the government which could be abused – especially in this age of technology, when it seems everything needs to be digitalised.

If there is one thing I have learnt in recent years, it is to be sceptical towards government and not to trust it blindly, no matter how benevolent it sounds. I have come to distrust the government before, and I will continue to do so.

Call me paranoid, but I feel, ultimately, people are well within their rights to choose whether on not they want to register to reap benefits from the government and improve their livelihoods. If you value privacy and do not want to give any more details than what is necessary, then don’t.

For me, the risks appear to outweigh the benefits. I don’t foresee a better outcome, but I hope to be proven wrong about the government’s competence in managing personal data – what more in governing the country, which is in a mess today.

Enoch Lim is currently doing a masters in public administration at a public university in the peninsula. He graduated with a degree in politics and government studies in Sarawak.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Orang Ulu
Orang Ulu
31 Mar 2024 7.30am

Fully agree. Don’t trust Rafizi. To begin with he has failed miserably as an Economy Minister. Now devoting his life to Padu … make life easy for hackers and scammers. All they have to do now is to breach Padu and all the confidential information which currently all in dozens of sites is now housed in Padu by the naive Rafizi. He thinks he is damn smart.bragging that Padu is unbreakable.

Doreen Yeoh
Doreen Yeoh
31 Mar 2024 1.52am

I couldn’t agree more.

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