Guess what, Malaysia made it on to the front page of Slashdot! The story however, is a bit less pleasant. Recently the Malaysian Government have announced they are planning to implement and enforce a set of Internet filtering schemes that many are saying is similar to China’s failed Green Dam Internet filtering initiative. Are we witnessing a slow transition away from free speech?
When Malaysia set up the Multimedia Super Corridor, Tun Dr Mahathir guarantees that there will be no censorship whatsoever of the Internet. He has the foresight to understand that technology companies overseas such as Microsoft, Cisco and other Silicon Valley heavyweights are very sensitive about operating environments and wanted to remove as much barriers as possible in order to encourage foreign investments to flow into the country. Now it appears that under the leadership of Prime Minister Najib, all that will be undone.
The Internet Filtering system proposed by Malaysia will be at the gateway level. That means that Internet providers such as TM, P1 and Jaring will be forced to comply with the new legislation and implement the filters on their hardware. This is contrasted with China’s Green Dam, which aims to put filtering software on every computer and has so far been a failure. Unfortunately, this means Malaysia’s filtering system will be much easier to implement and enforce. Minister of Information, Communications and Culture, Rais Yatim, have also stated that his ministry will take over the content and monitoring division of such an initiative, giving the government direct access to what to block.
Critics say that the new filtering system will no doubt be used to filter out internet content that is critical of the ruling government. The Barisan Nasional has been in control of the country’s politics for 51 years and have faced great pressure during the last General Elections from the Opposition which have successfully used the ‘new media’ such as Blogs and Twitter to spread their message to people around the country, managing to deny the ruling BN a 2/3rd majority in 2008. Ever since, persistent attacks from the opposition have reduced the government to executing a series of very unpopular moves such as arresting and detaining bloggers and charging them in court for sedition. The war between the government and opposition seems to be heading towards another stalemate as the ‘old media’ have traditionally denied publishing opposition views and it seems soon the ‘new media’ will follow the same trend.
PM Najib rose quickly to shoot down allegations that the filtering will be used to censor the opposition, saying that the government still has no changes in policy and no censorship will be done. He added “however, we are still discussing the matter”. There are already 4 proposals submitted to the government on the filtering system. A decision is expected to made in December regarding which system is to be used, in time for the High Speed Broadband rollout next year.