Malaysia has laws that permit wiretapping, but such laws only permit certain enforcement authorities to do that. Even then, there are strict procedures that must be complied with. No private citizen can wiretap, and no enforcement authority can wiretap, without complying with the provisions of the law. In any event, any authorised or legal wiretapping made pursuant to such laws should not be disclosed to the public as it would be intended for an ongoing investigation, and such disclosure may undermine the investigation.

In relation to the recent disclosure of audio recordings of certain individuals by an enforcement agency, the first question to ask is, was the act of audio recording or wiretapping legal and done in accordance with the law? If not, then we have bigger problems because this would suggest that the State apparatus or even private individuals can wiretap anyone without proper authority. To encourage such an act would inevitably lead to a situation whereby all our communications can be secretly recorded by anyone.

I postulated various scenarios as the source of the recordings is unknown at the moment. We could end up being in a “big brother” state, and our privacy will be violated. Another postulation that I made was that it could have been done by a private citizen. If that is so, then that is a clear breach of the law. Such matters ought to be investigated thoroughly by the relevant authorities by looking at the matter from various angles, instead of going through the unnecessary press conference which has created a circus.

Secondly, assuming the wiretapping was done legally (for argument’s sake) OR even illegally OR done by a whistle-blower (who has good intentions), why must the recordings be disclosed to the public? What was the objective? If wrongdoings had been committed by certain individuals as alleged, by all means, conduct a proper and thorough investigation. An objective investigative agency will investigate the matter professionally without making a fanfare.

Even if such recordings were done by a whistle-blower in the interest of the public, which overrides individual privacy concerns, my second question remains unanswered. We have the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 and the Witness Protection Act 2009, as well as rules and laws on how to conduct such investigations. The agency could have handled the information professionally. Even if the press conference is needed (which I doubt), the contents of the recordings ought not to be made public. They should have been handed to the proper agency for further investigation.

Being transparent is not the same as divulging confidential information that may be crucial to a potential or ongoing investigation (or possibly in an ongoing court trial). The fact that the information allegedly pertains to the 1MDB case, which is a matter of public importance, requires and demands that the authorities adhere to the strictest professionalism in order to avoid prejudicing or undermining the investigation, or the value of such information. A simple press conference stating that important evidence had been obtained and would be handed to the police would have been sufficient.

If we act arbitrarily, how then are we better than those whom we criticise for not obeying or breaching the law? The end does not justify the means. If we truly believe that we want proper governance, then the present powers that be and the enforcement agencies should not do something that is improper.