Friday, August 7, 2009

Net censorship?

Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim confirmed today that the Government will install an Internet filtering system purportedly to cut access to porn sites.
He was reported to have said that the system is to reduce “Malaysian children’s exposure to online pornography.”
“We will attempt to put in this filtering system because the safety of our children from pornography cannot be compromised,” he told a press conference.
This will make Malaysia the second country in recent times after China to attempt to control access to the Internet.
China's controversial Green Dam project which would have resulted in every PC being installed with Net filtering software has been postponed.
In Malaysia, it appears it is all systems go.The question is this - why is it necessary for the Government to instal porn filtration software costing nobody knows how much when parental filter softwares are already available for free from the Internet?
When I upgraded my Net service to Streamyx recently, my main concern was that my kids would view porn instead of doing their homework.
I asked around and was told to google for parental filters. I did just that and downloaded one of the more popular ones. Filtration of porn sites can be done by any parent for free.
Which raises another question - perhaps the Government wants to filter other sites? Politically-sensitive ones? Anti-Government ones? Blogs that leak information about the corruption of Barisan politicians? What about which is leaking allegations about DAP politicians? Will this be filtered out too?
The point is this - the Internet is where freedom reigns. Governments have found it difficult to control the Net - look at the experiences of authoritarian nations like China and Myanmar.
The Net has enabled citizens, especially those in strictly-regulated societies, to express themselves freely. Liberal discourses in the Net have enabled societies to mature politically and in some instances, Governments have resorted to using the Net to fight back against online detractors and win over the Net-savvy young generation.
What is the purpose of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's 1Malaysia blog? Now his wife has also launched her blog. A carelessly-programmed filter may just block these sites (oops, somebody's head will roll :) ).
Governments must realise that censorship - or filtration - is not the way to go in the connected world of today. The authorities tried to jam Raja Petra's Malaysia Today site; he simply launched a mirror site, and who's laughing now?
A few days ago, I posted an article on the anti-ISA rally and said it could be read as a tactic by de facto Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to divert attention from the problems Pakatan Raykat is facing. A friend e-mailed a reply with an article she had copied and pasted from a newspaper website in which the writer argued that Malaysians marched against the ISA because they believed in the cause and it was their democratic right to do so.
Such differences in opinion are common among bloggers and commentators - the diversity of views is healthy because it leads to a better understanding of the problems we face in Malaysia and perhaps people from opposing schools of thought can find ways to solve them.
Any political scientist will tell you that in the long run, censorship will lead to a Dark Age while freedom of expression will always lead to a new wave of brilliant, fresh ideas. Malaysian leaders must emerge from the Dark Age that they are still stuck in.

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