Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rais tries reviving Internet filter, but is porn the real target

Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

As the next general elections loom, Information Minister Rais Yatim is trying to revive his controversial idea of policing cyberspace, and this time even though smut may not be his real target, pundits say he may get his way.

“It may come under the guise of controlling pornography but the scope of the curbs and the filter will be wider than that,” PKR supreme council member Badrul Hisham Shahrin told Malaysia Chronicle.

Badrul, who is also known as Chegu Bard, is among those whose blog has come under the intense scrutiny of the authorities. The police have raided his home and even his office at the PKR headquarters was not spared.

Although they did not give specific reasons, it is believed the raids are over articles he wrote relating to the Altantuya murder and Prime Minister Najib Razak’s unpopular rail land swap with the Singapore government.

In August 2009, Rais had raised the prospect of an Internet filter to censor pornography. Even then, his proposal had sparked immediate concerns among human rights and opposition groups that the filter will also be used to block dissent.

"Once the government starts on the filtering mechanism, there is no proper check and balance to ensure it is confined only to porn, not to dissent. There is a danger of a larger censorship regime," DAP adviser and active blogger Lim Kit Siang had then said.

Move will backfire

Amid public outcry, Najib aborted the plan. However, with his ruling Umno party holding the short end of the stick with voters, he is likely to give Rais the green light this time. Najib has until March 2013 to call for 13th national polls but speculation is rife that he will hold it before October 2011.

Rais was believed to have solicited bids to help evaluate the feasibility of an Internet filter - similar to China's aborted "Green Dam" software. Chinese authorities too had said the software was needed to shield children from violent and obscene material online.

But experts who examined it have warned Green Dam also would block material the government deemed politically unacceptable. Top US officials have also said the filter would be a barrier to trade.

On Sunday, Rais took pains to point out Mahathir's recommendation that a pornography filter for the Internet was becoming urgent.

Mahathir had been reported by the mainstream media as saying he was becoming increasingly worried about the spread of smut on the Internet and felt it should be filtered as it was contributing to the increase in sexual crimes in the country.

"I greatly welcome Tun's views because we appear to be alone in voicing out against this negative influence. If more leaders voice out against pornography, the easier it will be for us to tackle this issue,” Bernama reported Rais as saying on Sunday.

"There are certain quarters who have doubts about legal provisions to tackle the menace. Actually, we have Section 265 of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Comission Act to handle this.”

Although the Najib administration might bulldoze its way through this time, pundits say the move will backfire and help swing even more of the popular vote to Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Rakyat coalition. As it is, they already have the upper-hand as far as 'netroots' are concerned.

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