Published on November 13th, 2020 | by Subhash Nair0
Is it Legal to Film Police Officers, but not to Share the Video?
There’s quite a bit of noise around the legality of filming police officers in Malaysia, particularly now that CMCO has been declared for most states in Peninsular Malaysia. Once again, we’re seeing police roadblocks being set up.
While the discussion around filming police officers was brought up earlier this year when MCO was being enforced, it now centres around what happened with student activist Wong Yan Ke, which you can read more about here.
After the incident, Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department Director Huzir Mohamed made a statement regarding the filming of police officers. While he said that filming or taking photos of police officers was not an offense, he said in “light of an investigation, if they are being shared, spread and viraled, they can interfere with the investigation process.”
So, if your car has a dashcam and it’s running while you’re at a roadblock that’s perfectly fine. But if you happen to film the police searching a car ahead of you with the dashcam and you share that clip online, you might be in trouble. Of course, filming using your smartphone while driving will get you in all kinds of trouble anyway, so avoid doing that altogether.
Is this a fair compromise? Remember, police officers are humans too. Investigations can be negatively affected or slowed down when exposed to the public. Sometimes public perception can be distorted, the perception of an impartial investigation or the investigators themselves may be misled by comments made. Possible suspects and witnesses could also be alerted in advance when videos are shared, which could affect an investigation too.
On the other hand, the Malaysian public also needs to protect itself from possible harassment, excessive use of force, being framed. All these things are concerns when transparency and trust in government bodies are in question.
Here’s what DAP’s Ramkarpal Singh, MP of Bukit Gelugor has to say on the matter.
“The statement by Bukit Aman CID director Huzir Mohamed that taking a photograph or recording a video of police carrying out their investigations is an offence under section 186 of the Penal Code is blatantly wrong and gives the impression that the police are afraid of being watched while conducting investigations.
Section 186 of the Penal Code states,
“Obstructing public servant in discharge of his public functions
- Whoever voluntarily obstructs any public servant in the discharge of his public functions, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand ringgit or with both.”
The phrase “voluntarily obstructs” is unambiguous and refers only to situations where one actively does something that hinders a police officer from carrying out his duties.
How does a passive act of recording investigations come within the ambit of section 186?
It is not for Huzir to say if the recording of the police carrying out investigations is illegal as this is a matter for a court to decide after considering all the evidence pertaining to the matter.
Even the Inspector General of Police has mooted the idea of body cameras on police officers in the past, obviously for the purpose of promoting transparency in the investigation process.
Is Huzir saying that body cameras are also illegal?
Going by Huzir’s logic, recordings captured by CCTV cameras of police officers carrying out investigations would also be illegal which is absurd.
There is nothing wrong with recording a police officer carrying out his duties as long as this is done without obstructing him. In fact, this should be encouraged to promote transparency of the investigation process.
Huzir should stop making blanket statements like this and leave it to the courts to decide if a particular situation involving the recording of police officers is illegal based on evidence.”