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PADU: 'Big data' or 'big brother'?

As deadline nears for Malaysians to update their details on PADU, many still worried about giving their personal information.

3 minute read
Rafizi Ramli's (second left) PADU project has been criticised due to data privacy concerns. Photo: Facebook
Rafizi Ramli's (second left) PADU project has been criticised due to data privacy concerns. Photo: Facebook

Housewife Siti Khatijah Zubaidi from Hulu Selangor is one of the millions of Malaysians who have not updated their details in the Central Database Hub (PADU) despite numerous requests to do so by 31 March.

Despite reminders from Economic Affairs Minister Rafizi Ramli, the man who has been promoting the new database to identify who is eligible for various government aids and subsidies, Khatijah is still not convinced that the authorities are well equipped to ensure data security.

She still remembers how her late father lost RM15,000 in his bank account without his knowledge, and scammers who are still able to reach her personal phone and those of her family members.

"I am worried that the data will be sold to irresponsible parties," Khatijah told MalaysiaNow.

"My husband being a civil servant had no choice but to register and follow his boss, otherwise it will affect his pension and others."

Concerns such as those raised by Khatijah were recently voiced by a senior Sarawak minister who criticised the way the government is implementing PADU by asking for various personal information.

"The moment you fill in, you strip yourself naked. Practically everything – your bank account, your house, everything!" said Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

"I don’t think that is a proper way to treat your citizens," the Sarawak state tourism minister said.

Abdul Karim also raised the question of whether the federal government was pursuing a political agenda by asking people to provide personal data.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) had expressed similar concerns and warned of the danger of sensitive information being disclosed without the public having a legal right to compensation if their personal data is stolen.

“As it stands... the data collected by PADU can be disseminated or used by the government beyond its declared purpose of targeted subsidies. There have been cases of misuse of data by the government before where personal data were used to disseminate propaganda by way of SMS to the public,” said LFL's Zaid Malek.

Khatijah agreed.

"I think the fear is about information transmitted online. We are also afraid that there will be a breach of personal data," he added.

Khatijah was a recipient of Rahmah Cash Aid (STR), an aid programme that has been rebranded by the current government.

Since she got married, she no longer receives STR aid, but that does not bother her.

The government said PADU, which was launched by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in January, will ensure that aid and subsidies are only given to those who are eligible, moving from mass to targeted subsidies.

The system combines data from various authorities such as the Inland Revenue Board and the Social Welfare Department, and others.

An information technology expert said the integrated data should be protected under the Personal Data Protection Act 2010 (PDPA), although the government says it is exempt from that law.

"The PDPA, which was meant to protect our data, only applies to commercial data. Government agencies are not affected," said Azril Hanafi Abdullah Sharwani.

"This is the main problem with the public's response to PADU. The government needs to be more strategic and organised," he added.

As of 23 March, around 7.36 million people have registered in PADU, according to Putrajaya.

Rafizi has reminded Malaysians to update their data or risk missing out on government support.

But for Azril, the narrative brought by Rafizi shows the weakness of the government's communication.

"They should come up with a better narrative that is positive for the people. The government should have a strategic communication that can persuade people to support the initiative," he said.

PADU is not the only initiative that requires people to disclose their personal information.

Recently, the Ministry of Finance instructed money changers to ensure that their customers provide their name, address and other details.

Senior IT lecturer Saaidal Razalli Azzuhri said he understood Abdul Karim's concerns about data protection.

"The government needs to strike a balance between utilising data for more efficient administration and protecting the fundamental rights and privacy of citizens. Measures such as a comprehensive data protection law, enforcement of laws and data management with integrity and transparency must be prioritised," said the Universiti Malaya lecturer.