The abuse of knowledge
By Salleh Buang
It is indeed a pity that the people behind the fraudulent land transfers
recently discovered in Selangor had no qualms about abusing the knowledge
they have on the computerised land registration system for their own
According to recent reports, the scam had been going on since 2002,
involving 13 fraudulent transfers of alienated land measuring approximately
1,000 acres in the State. The fraud had apparently been perpetrated through
at least four land offices in Klang, Kuala Langat, Hulu Langat and Shah Alam.
The questions we must now ask are: How could the computerised land
registration system be hacked into and its contents altered or modified?
Where were the security features in the system - the safeguards? Were they
not in place? If they were, were they hacker-proof?
Criminal activities involving land dealings are not something new. The law
reports are littered with them. However, there is a stark difference between
the cases in the reports and the land scam in Selangor.
In the reports, the crimes were invariably committed by individuals, while
the incidents in Selangor over the past two years involve a group of people
acting in concert; members of a computer-savvy syndicate, able to use modern
technology to commit their crimes.
Within a fortnight of commencing their investigations, the authorities were
able to commence criminal proceedings against one of the suspected
perpetrators. A 24-year old contract worker at the Shah Alam Land Office was
produced in the Shah Alam Sessions Court to answer a charge under section
467 of the Penal Code which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’
imprisonment and also a fine. He pleaded not guilty to forging or tampering
with the department’s computerised land ownership database with the
intention of causing loss to the landowner.
In addition to that principal charge under the Penal Code, the accused was
also charged under the Computer Crimes Act 1997, to which he also pleaded
not guilty. These were two separate charges under this new cyber law,
provided for under sections 4(1)(a) and 5(1).
The first offence (under section 4) is making unauthorised access (in plain
language, hacking) with intent to commit or facilitate the commission of a
further offence. Upon conviction, he can be given a custodial sentence not
exceeding 10 years, a fine not exceeding RM150,000, or both.
The second offence (under section 5) is making an unauthorised modification
of the contents of any computer. In committing this offence, it is
immaterial that the act in question is not directed at any particular
programme or data, a programme or data of any kind, or a programme or data
held in any particular computer. Upon conviction, he can be given a
custodial sentence not exceeding seven years, a fine not exceeding
RM100,000, or both.
The accused was said to have committed these offences on July 30, 2003 at
his place of employment at the Selangor Secretariat Building in Shah Alam.
This case has been fixed for mention again on Feb 26, to enable the accused
to appoint a lawyer. If you are interested in having a closer look, you know
where you should be on that day.
The affected landowners certainly look forward to an early resolution of
this criminal proceeding (and several others, which would most probably
follow). They also want to know the identity of the others who are members
of the syndicate carrying out the land scam. The information would be
crucial to them later when they file civil proceedings under section 340(2)
of the National Land Code in which they would certainly be seeking the
orders of the court to restore the land titles (which they had lost as a
result of the scam) back to them as rightful owners.
Professor Salleh Buang is the senior advisor of a company specialising in
competitive intelligence. He is also active in training and public
speaking and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org