16 April 2007

Handphones, PDAs shut out

PUTRAJAYA: A no handphones or PDAs in “security areas” rule has been enforced at all Government departments to prevent spying.

To further enhance protection of vital information, key administrative areas and places where official matters are discussed have been designated as “information security zones.”

Some of these zones have been installed with electronic jamming devices to prevent unauthorised communication or transmission of data and images.

The moves come in the wake of Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohamed Sidek Hassan’s circular which warned that these devices could be used for “spying purposes”, such as the capturing of images and recording of information.

“No control of these devices and protection from misuse, can lead to negative implications to the country’s economy, national security, functions and the image of the Government.

“As everybody knows, these handphones and communication devices have become necessary items for people working in all government agencies.

“The widespread use of these devices, especially handphones with camera facilities, have serious implications on security. These devices can be abused to gather or even transmit information in any form, including unauthorised data or digital images,” he said in the Jan 31 circular to state secretaries and heads of departments, agencies and local councils.

Mohamed Sidek urged department heads to take caution and limit the use of the devices.

He also asked them to identify premises, rooms or places being used to administer or discuss official matters as “information security zones.”

In the circular, the chief secretary also warned civil servants not to misuse their phones to record matters, particularly those protected under the Official Secrets Act.

Department heads, he said, should warn those attending meetings, where issues affecting the country are discussed, not to breach confidentiality rules directly or indirectly.

The circular also directed that visitors were to be reminded of the ban through posters and notices put up at the security zones and to consider installing equipment to jam communication at such places.

When contacted, Chief Security Officer Johari Jamaluddin said there had been no security breach nor any leak of sensitive information to Internet sites.

”We had never felt the need to come up with such a ban before because the use of camera handphones and other electronic devices was not rampant. Now, everyone seems to have them,” he said.

“It is a bit inconvenient but for the sake of the country’s security, everyone has to play their role,” he said confirming that some rooms in departments had been installed with “jammers.” He declined to reveal where they were.

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