Malaysian govt bans camera phones

Visitors carrying mobile devices embedded with cameras will have to surrender their gadgets when they enter high-security areas in government buildings across Malaysia.
Written by Lee Min Keong, Contributor

MALAYSIA--Government agencies across the country have implemented the necessary measures to ensure they are in compliance with a directive, requiring visitors to surrender camera-embedded communication devices when they enter high-security areas in government buildings.

The country earlier this year barred all gadgets with camera facilities from being brought into high-security government premises. The ban will prevent spying and the leaking of sensitive information or official secrets, which could jeopardize national security, Chief Secretary Mohamed Sidek Hassan, explained in a circular--written in Malay--issued to all government ministries, departments and agencies.

The note stated that key administrative areas and places where official matters are discussed, have to be designated as "information security zones" to enhance the protection of vital information. To facilitate the ban, government bodies had to make various arrangements, such as providing safety boxes to temporarily store cell phones and other communication devices.

According to Mohamed Sidek, the widespread use of these devices, specifically camera phones, have serious implications on homeland security. "These devices can be abused to gather or even transmit information in any form, including unauthorized data or digital images," he said in the circular.

The government official warned civil servants not to misuse their phones to record data, particularly information protected under the Official Secrets Act. Department heads were also reminded to warn employees involved in meetings, where issues affecting the country are discussed, not to breach confidentiality rules.

Government bodies were also instructed to look into installing electronic jamming devices in security zones to prevent unauthorized communication or transmission of data and images.

Johari Jamaluddin, the government's chief security officer, had reportedly confirmed the use of such devices in some of buildings. "It is a bit inconvenient [to enforce the directive] but for the sake of the country's security, everyone has to play their role," said Johari.

MIMOS, Malaysia's leading applied ICT research organization, is one government agency that has taken security threats seriously, and diligently implemented necessary measures to ensure it is in compliance with the government's mandate.

"The banning of these devices in high-security areas within MIMOS has been implemented for some time now," Abdul Aziz Abdul Kadir, the agency's senior vice president, said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia. MIMOS focuses on various research areas including security, grid computing and communications.

Asked if there have been cases where people had tried to spy or steal sensitive information from a MIMOS facility, Aziz said there has been "no official report so far".

He noted that his agency constantly updates its physical and non-physical security policies. In addition, MIMOS works closely with the Malaysian Chief Government Security Office in developing physical and logical administrative procedures to address issues related to spying and theft of classified information, Aziz explained.

Though the directive covers only organizations in the public sector, the threat of information theft and spying can also impact the private sector.

When queried, companies contacted by ZDNet--including hard disk manufacturer Western Digital and PC maker Dell Computer--were reluctant to discuss security measures they have implemented and whether they restrict or ban the use of camera mobile phones and handhelds in their facilities.

Western Digital operates a plant on the outskirts of Malaysia's capital city Kuala Lumpur, while Dell runs a manufacturing facility in Penang.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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