New survey revives spectre of Malaysian ‘Green Dam’

(The Malaysian Insider) – The Najib administration has started to evaluate the feasibility of putting an Internet filter to block “undesirable websites” two weeks ago, although it backed off from a similar plan a year ago after a public outcry.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had commissioned KPMG to carry out the “Study on Positive and Safe Use of the Internet” in early August to evaluate, among others, “the implementation of Internet Filter at Internet Gateway level” and “the impact of the various methods to Malaysian Internet users and Malaysia economy”.

Critics say any move to filter the Internet is against the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Bill of Guarantees apart from being largely ineffective as most Internet surfers can circumvent filters through proxy servers.

“It’s a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. For every one way of blocking the Internet, there is another way of getting around it,” Dhillon Andrew Kannabhiran, chief executive officer of Internet security firm Hack in the Box, told The Malaysian Insider, in a repeat of his comments last year.

“These guys are crazy. They should know it’s pouring money into a blackhole,” he added.

The Malaysian Insider last year broke the story on August 6 that despite a guarantee of no censorship in the MSC, Datuk Seri Rais Yatim’s Information Ministry was evaluating the feasibility of putting an Internet filter to block “undesirable websites” — similar to China’s aborted “Green Dam” software.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak later firmly denied a plan to police the Internet, citing technical obstacles and strong public displeasure, hours after Rais had confirmed a possible “green dam”.

“The government has no desire to implement Internet filtering,” the prime minister said then when commenting on Rais’ remarks that the government wants to shut out smut.

In this year’s study that began with a briefing to officials from the country’s eight Internet service providers (ISPs) on August 6, the MCMC said it would conduct site visits with KPMG to gather information. It is understood that the site visits were initially scheduled between August 9 and 12 but have yet to be completed.

In its letter to the ISPs dated August 2 that was labelled “Confidential”, the MCMC also included a list of 23 questions for the ISPs to answer.

One of the questions inadvertently showed the main possible reason for an Internet filter when it asked “What types/categories of contents are being filtered?”, with the answers starting from political followed by drug trafficking, pornography, human rights and others.

Among the other questions were whether the ISPs used either index or analysis filtering, the tools or hardware and software used to filter the Internet, the cost of implementing filtering and if any filtering was being done at this point in time.

When the plan was revealed last year, the opposition criticised the move, saying it was politically motivated and an attempt to deny the people from accessing information not in favour of the government.

But Rais last year said the government had only intended to block access to pornographic sites, an opinion which former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad raised recently in his popular blog.

It is understood that the results of the latest study will be shared with the National Security Council (NSC) which is chaired by Najib.

The NSC has a unit that monitors websites, blogs and even Twitter accounts of politicians and activists in the country.