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28 February 2010

Securing A Visit



Being asked to surrender your identity card can put a damper on going from one open house to the next.

CHINESE New Year is a great time of the year. The extra-long weekends, all those friends to share festive celebrations with, and open houses to visit. That is, as long as you can get past the security guards without getting into a fight.

My problem is this: Many security guards in “gated communities” and condominiums insist that you hand over your identity card (IC) before they let you enter, and I always, rightly, refuse to do so. When my friend pointed out that it was illegal for security to hold another’s IC, the guard happily opened his drawer and fanned out half a dozen of the cards.

“See? All these people give their IC.” My friend bit her tongue but if I would have gladly said what she was thinking: “All these people are stupid.”

Malaysia is one of about a hundred countries in the world that uses the identity card system. Once a citizen reaches the age of 12, he will be given an IC, which he is expected to carry with him for the rest of his life. The latest incarnation (the electronic MyKad) not only has information on the person’s name, IC number, address and (for Muslims) religion, but also details on his/her driving licence, passport, digital certificates, health and (for some cards) Touch ‘n Go.

My friend was right about this card being private to the owner. According to the National Registration Regulations 1990, it is an offence for a person “to unreasonably detain any identity card other than his own”. Is a condominium security guard an “authority that exercises any of its lawful functions”? Even if he is, you don’t have to show him the actual IC; a simple photocopy is good enough. (Regulations 7, 8A and 9, if you’re interested.)

So why do these security guards insist they have the power to compel you to show them your IC?

Well, if you don’t give it to them, they won’t let you in to enjoy your angpows and mandarin oranges. And they’re more than happy to go through the “I’m just doing my job, don’t be difficult” spiel when you try to argue. So, most people just give in and hand over their cards.

The common excuse given is that it’s for security. They want to give you a tag that marks you as a visitor, and holding your IC ensures that you will return the tag. I’d rather give a RM10 deposit, thank you very much. Sometimes they say they need your personal details so that they have an accurate record of who’s going in and out of the compound. However, they usually take down the details of just one person in a car (passengers are obviously harmless). And I’m sure no self-respecting evil-doer would ever think of creating a fake IC to get up to no good.

I know that most security outfits know that it’s wrong to keep people’s ICs. This is because they say that if you can’t (or won’t) give them that, they will happily take your driver’s licence instead. (I found out they don’t like it at all if you tell them you don’t have either of those cards.)

The root of the problem isn’t that I don’t want to break laws by giving them my IC. The simple truth is that it’s none of their business who I am or where I live if I want to visit a friend.

Generally, Malaysians can be quite dumb – we give private data away too easily. With active participation in schemes like loyalty cards, we share our private particulars willingly, with no consideration of the consequences. At least you get free gifts with bonus cards.

So what should security companies do to safeguard their properties?

I think they need to practise the principle of fair access. If I want to visit a friend who is expecting me, then the guards should not stop me from reaching his unit through the interconnecting roads and paths. Otherwise, there is no way to visit my friend in his own (private) home without trespassing on another person’s private land.

Here’s a suggestion: when I reach a place and say I want to visit my friend at a particular road and number, the guard should make a phone call to confirm that I am expected. Accordingly, a record is made that my friend had visitors at a certain time. The guard can then escort me to his house to make sure I don’t get up to anything in between. Friendly, courteous – and secure.

Admittedly, that would give the guards more work to do, and the onus is on them to do some actual security work. However, I think that in this time of festivity it’s something they should look forward to. Not only is it an opportunity to personally wish residents Happy Chinese New Year, they might even get some oranges in return.

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