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Fwd: Singapore struggles to control cyberspace, from HKStandard

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>Date: Thu, 17 Oct 1996 19:27:19 -0700 (PDT)
>From: Declan McCullagh <declan@eff.org>
>To: fight-censorship@vorlon.mit.edu
>Subject: Singapore struggles to control cyberspace, from HKStandard
>Message-Id: <Pine.SUN.3.91.961017192456.21057B-100000@eff.org>

More at http://www.eff.org/~declan/global/ --Declan


Singapore struggles to control cyberspace

   SINGAPORE: Singapore, famous for its social order and regulation, is
   struggling to control the chaos of the Internet.

   Determined to make the tiny city-state ``an information hub'', in the
   words of Information and Arts Minister George Yeo, Singapore is
   linking every household through a vast network of high capacity
   coaxial cables and super-computers.

   Once completed, access to the global computer network will be 1,000
   times faster than through normal telephone connections.

   Over 150,000 of Singapore's 750,000 households are already on line and
   all three million people should be tied in by 1999.

   But with this information revolution comes new challenges, testing
   Singapore's famous social order, which has been carefully cultivated
   by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) since the country's
   independence in 1965.

   Long used to a strictly controlled local press and restrictions on
   many foreign publications, Singaporeans suddenly have virtually open
   access to news, information, films and, most worrying to the
   authorities, pornography.

   This was not the what the government had in mind.

   ``We want businessmen to invest in the Internet and develop new
   software,'' Mr Yeo said in recent interview. ``We want the department
   stores and the purveyors of goods and services to make most use of the

   Worried by lack of control, Singapore has announced measures to try to
   curb local access to ``undesireable'' Internet sites.

   The Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) licences just three
   Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for domestic subscribers, all units
   of government-linked companies, including state telephone company
   Singapore Telecom.

   All three have installed ``proxy servers'', giant computers capable of
   blocking sites the SBA wants banned.

   Singapore-based groups wanting to produce pages for the Internet's
   most popular forum, the World Wide Web, must also register with the
   SBA and can expect careful vetting if they trespass into the political
   or religious arena.

   But the anarchic Internet, which lacks any central authority, appears
   to be defeating most attempts at control.

   ``It is impossible to block every site,'' said Ong Su Mann, editor of
   the Singapore edition of Asia Online magazine.

   ``Some adult sites have been blocked _ Playboy, for example _ but if
   you are someone that seeks out adult sites, all you need to do is use
   a search engine (software search device) such as Yahoo! or Infoseek
   and type in a word like `sex' or 'nudity','' he said.

   A recent key-word search in Singapore for sites with ``sex'' in the
   title found 22,797 responses, many offering free access to
   pornographic pictures, videos or interactive chat-lines. A similar
   search for ``nudity'' found 88,100 sites.

   The biggest problem for would-be regulators is the Internet's size.
   With worldwide connections fast approaching 100 million, and new users
   coming in by tens of thousands every day, there are simply too many
   sites to police.

   Even if authorities were able to monitor and shut down offensive sites
   as fast as they appeared, users could simply dodge local controls by
   dialing into an Internet node in another country at international
   phone rates that are falling fast.

   Faced with these hurdles, the Singapore authorities have decided to
   pick off what they say are the worst sites with ``mass impact'' at
   source, while attempting to curb access to pornography by encouraging
   control at a local level.

   SBA chief executive officer Goh Liang Kwang says it has banned ``just
   a few dozen sites'', all of them pornographic.

   ``We want parents and teachers to put in their own measures like
   desk-top software such as `SurfWatch' and `Net Nanny','' Mr Goh told
   Reuters in an interview.

   Knowing it cannot block the overwhelming majority of sites on the
   Internet it dislikes and realising it is impractical to interfere with
   key-word searches, the SBA is making a gesture, which it hopes
   Singaporeans will respond to, Mr Goh says.

   On a political level, the governing PAP has set up its own Internet
   sites to counter ``misinformation'' about Singapore.

   But opponents of censorship scent victory.

   ``There is already plenty of censorship in Singapore,'' said Alex
   Chacko, publisher of several books about Singapore life which he says
   have incurred official displeasure.

   ``We've had problems in the past getting reviewed in Singapore ... Now
   we use the Internet.'' _ Reuter



   1. http://www.hkstandard.com/online/news/001/asia/asia.htm#8

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