Freedom to read what we want you to read

By Kamil Hafidh

There has been much talk lately on the proposal by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture to 'safeguard' the public from all ‘undesirable’ websites. Not using the words 'filter' or 'censor' doesn't mean it will not be done if the effect is the same.

The current move is still going to be similar to what the China government did previously under the highly controversial ‘Green Dam’ project, which got the unintended effect of creating wrath and anger of the entire communist nation that included non-regular and regular internet users, those from the IT industry and manufacturers. Not to mention the high pressure mounted by the US government, which stated that any filtering of internet content clearly violated freedom of expression, human rights, and the right to free information from the World Wide Web.

As a regular internet user, I view the latest move by the ministry with great concern. Access to uncensored internet content is guaranteed under Article 7 of the Multimedia Super Corridor’s (MSC) Bill of Guarantees. Therefore, any move to ignore the Bill will be considered as a step backward, thus hampering efforts by the government to create technological growth, and not forgetting the crucial development of human capital.

Sure, there are some users who have breached the ethical boundaries of internet usage. However, they account for only a small minority of users. That does not make it right to ignore the majority of netizens and industry players alike. Individuals like you and me who utilizes the World Wide Web to seek information from its infinite resources are finding this latest development very hard to accept.

Certainly, there are other ways of ‘disciplining’ the masses from visiting or getting involved in ‘undesirable’ activities online. How about an educational approach? Teaching our children and youngsters from an early age on the most ethical way of internet surfing or any other activities associated with it.

By the way, who actually determines whether a certain content from the internet is ‘undesirable’? What are the criteria involved? Who has the final authority on the matter? How are they going to execute it? There are so many questions that need immediate answers.

Experts in the IT industry also gave their fair share of arguments. How can the government implement it? When a certain website or contents of the website is filtered or blocked, those who administer the site can easily move or copy the contents of their site to another site, via proxy servers. They can do this all the time because it does not take too much effort and time.

Another setback is, when website filtering is done, it might harm the computer’s software or hardware. When that happens, it will create uneasiness. The second round of complaints will surely be coming ahead. Has anybody noticed that the spread of this news is also very fast? Before any official from the ministry is able to make any press conference to announce the decision, online and wire agency reports already reported it. It has already been debated online. Talk about dissemination of information in the digital age!

If we are going to achieve a developed nation status by the year 2020, how are we going to do it when one of the main resources is filtered inconsiderably? This will act as a hindrance to all the hard work that the earlier administration has embarked upon.

If the move by the China government to pursue the ‘Green Dam’ project had received such criticism from inside and outside the country, then are we going to fare better if we proceed with such a similar plan? I personally do not think so. If this issue is raised now due to the rising numbers of blogs and websites that are critical to the government, then it is not the politically correct thing to do because, if implemented, it will create more speculations and insensible politicking. The issue will be in the headlines, be it from the online community or from the mainstream media. If the intention is to prevent children and youngster from accessing contents with ‘bad elements’, education is still the best approach. This country needs to move forward.

Dear minister, please hear the plight of us, the regular internet users.

The assurance given by the Prime Minister himself that the government will not impose any Internet censorship is most welcomed. Let it be known that any attempt in filtering contents in the cyberspace is a useless gesture, based on the reasons stated earlier. However, since the feasibility study is still being done at the moment, let it continue. The scope of studies must be extended to online phishing, scams, frauds and identity theft. Comments by industry experts must also be included. Findings of the study can be used to gauge the effectiveness of such a proposal, and will add as useful reference materials in academic discussions regarding information and communication technology (ICT).

What this country needs right now is the ability to move forward and be a pioneer in developments regarding the ICT industry, if possible, in this region. Any attempt in slowing the pace of technology is definitely a step backward. We certainly do want to be classified as the second ‘Green Dam’. This country deserves much more.