Is there need for Panopticon in the form of PADU a.k.a. grandiose white elephant in the making?

Editor’s Note: Panopticon is a centralised system of control and observation of prisoners. In the present usage, it could refer to centralised data system that might have ominous implications to society – data leaks and others.

I AM eager to know why the Madani government of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is so keen to establish the PADU national central database hub?

As soon as PADU was launched with much fanfare, there were some teething problems associated with the registration of personal particulars.

The main proponent of this centralised data base system was none other than the Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli. As problems mounted over the viability of PADU, he assured the public that problems would be sorted out.

Beyond this, the public is not sure to whom the government offered the tender to establish PADU – was it an open tender and what was the cost – except that PADU is placed under the purview of civil servants instead of third-party vendors to reduce data leakage risks.

Rumours are that the contract for the setting up of PADU was given to company that might be directly or indirectly related to those in power.

Apart from the security problems of PADU which is the lingering fear that the data might be leaked as this had happened before, the real question is whether we need a centralised data base in the first place.

It is not there is no other database, perhaps the other database is more on decentralised basis (eg data about the public in departments and ministries). It is not that the government is unaware of the existence of data/information about its citizens.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (fourth from left) launches the PADU national central database hub on Jan 2

White elephant

If PADU is needed to dispense aid to people who are qualified, then shouldn’t such data be with the relevant government agencies. In other words, why the need to centralise the data about the public.

To date, the government or the minister in-charge, Rafizi has failed to justify the creation of the database. He could not even answer the relevant questions posed by the Lawyers of Liberty (LFL) on security matters and how the government will address the grievances of the data is leaked.

Madani government is no different to earlier governments in the past in terms of creating something and justifying things.

This is what the gung-ho Economy Minister Rafizi is doing at the present, never mind millions of taxpayers’ money might be eventually wasted on a grandiose white elephant.

I suggest that PADU be suspended for the time being to address the various complaints that have come about. The government or its ministers should stop dismissing these complaints but to address them effectively.

A temporary suspension of PADU might provide insights whether PADU should be continued or not. The practice of putting the cart before the horse must be avoided at all costs.

The French philosopher Michel Focault has theorised many years ago that a centralised system of information/data (Panopticon) might be consciously or unconsciously used for the purpose of observation and control.

In the case of PADU, the data might be used against the Malaysian public if the government is not careful. A centralised data system might be effective but it might also give rise to the manipulation and abuse of the data. – Jan 8, 2024


Former DAP stalwart and Penang chief minister II Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is chairman of the Urimai (United Rights of Malaysian Party) Interim Council.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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