Internet censorship in Singapore

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Internet censorship in Singapore is carried out by the Media Development Authority (MDA). Internet services provided by the three major Internet service providers (ISPs) are subject to regulation by the MDA, which requires blocking of a symbolic number of websites containing "mass impact objectionable" material, including Playboy, YouPorn and Ashley Madison.[1] The civil service, tertiary institutions and Institute of Technical Education has its own jurisdiction to block websites displaying pornography, information about drugs and online piracy.

History[edit]

In 1996 the Singapore government's Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) began monitoring Internet activity and content. Under their guidelines, all ISPs are licensed by the SBA and therefore are subject to the Internet Code of Practice that outlined prohibited online material. Prohibited material was any content or activity that could be seen as "objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public morality, public order, public security, national harmony, or is otherwise prohibited by applicable Singapore laws."[2]

Political and racially sensitive content is frequently censored in Singapore, resulting in a chilling effect on bloggers and academics active on social media.[3][4][5] The early to mid-2000s saw the rising popularity of satire websites such as TalkingCock.com and blogs like YawningBread and mrbrown, which offered alternative perspectives on socio-political issues from government-friendly mainstream media.[6] In July 2006, mrbrown's weekly column in newspaper Today was terminated after he highlighted the immediate price hikes after the 2006 Singapore general elections. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said mrbrown's column had ‘‘hit out wildly at the government and in a very mocking and dismissive sort of tone’’ and Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts sent a letter saying his article could undermine national stability, and that it was "not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the government".[7][8] In 2012, blogger Alex Au was made by the Attorney General's Chambers and prime minister Lee Hsien Loong to remove his blog posts and apologise several times for various issues, including his questioning of the judicial sentencing of doctor Woffles Wu for a traffic offence, as well as his observations of the saga involving the sale of the ruling party's town councils' software to an IT firm.[9][10] He was subsequently charged for scandalising the judiciary in 2015 for suggesting judicial partiality towards two constitutional challenges against the Singapore law criminalising sex between men in his blog posts.[11][12]

In 2013, Singapore enacted a law requiring licenses for news sites that report regularly on the country, a move that critics of the ruling People’s Action Party see as an attempt to silence online dissent.[13] Sites which satisfy the criteria must also put up a performance bond of $50,000, and are expected to remove content that is perceived by the MDA to be against the public interest, public security, or national harmony within 24 hours.[14] Aside from the online websites of state-owned newspapers, socio-political websites and news providers such as Yahoo Singapore,[15] The Online Citizen,[16] Mothership.sg,[17] The Independent Singapore,[18] The Middle Ground[19] were all approached to register for the class license.

Cases[edit]

In July 2001, Dr Tan Chong Kee, the founder of Sintercom, was asked to register the website under the nascent Singapore Broadcast Authority Act (now Media Development Authority). Dr Tan chose to shut down Sintercom due to concerns over the ambiguity of the Act.[20][21]

In 2015, a video made by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), titled "Pappy Washing Powder", was deemed a party political film and thus prohibited under the Films Act.[22]

Sedition Act[edit]

The Sedition Act inherited from the colonial era is also used to charge internet users deemed to have promoted feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the law was necessary to preserve Singapore's racial and religious harmony as ethnic tensions in South-east Asia may give rise to Islamic terrorism.[23] There is continuing debate on whether the use of the Act will have a chilling effect on public debate on the Internet.[24] A 2012 survey from Blackbox Research showed that 75% of the respondents felt that there was no need for legal action against racist online commenters, with 59% saying a formal warning should suffice for a first-time offender, and 16% indicating that it was sufficient to publicly shame them online.[25]

In September 2005, three people were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for posting racist comments on the Internet.[26] It was the first time the Act was invoked in Singapore for a decade and the first use by the government against individuals.[27][28]

In 2012, an assistant director at National Trades Union Congress membership department was fired for racist comments in Facebook. In a separate incident, a Chinese student was fined for his abusive comments towards Singaporeans.[29][30]

In the same year, Singaporean cartoonist Leslie Chew was charged with sedition for alleging official discrimination against the Malay population, on his Facebook page Demon-cratic Singapore.[31] He was charged again for contempt of court for several cartoons questioning Singapore courts for their differential treatment, based on status of nationality and political affiliation of the defendants. The Sedition Act carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and a fine of S$5,000 (US $3,939) if found guilty. However the government later withdrew the charge. Chew states that he “was interrogated for over 30 hours and placed under island arrest for 3 months and (had) to report for bail extension 6 times during that period.”[32]

In other incidents, teenagers and expatriates were arrested by the Singapore police over derogatory, offensive, abusive or threatening comments posted on social media.[33][34][35]

Academic Cherian George noted that in most cases, state action to prosecute individuals was instigated by complaints from members of the public, and the offensive content were spread further by those reporting the offence. He argued that internet users should be able to partake in open debates and opinion leaders can make a collective stand against ideas contrary to Singaporean ethos, without the need for government to intervene and censor or punish.[36]

Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act[edit]

The Computer Misuse Act (CMA) was introduced in 1993 and its offence provisions are based primarily on the United Kingdom’s 1990 legislation of the same name.[37] In the years since, the government has taken a much tougher stand on Internet-related matters, including censorship. Amendments to the Penal Code in 2006 hold Internet users liable for "causing public mischief", and give the authorities broader powers in regulating Internet content.[38][39] Following the 2013 Singapore cyberattacks, the Computer Misuse Act was renamed to Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act.

Banned websites[edit]

The IMDA (previously the MDA) maintains a list of more than 100 banned websites.[40] When trying to access a blocked site, visitors are usually greeted by an IMDA or error message depending on the individual ISP and web filtering service. The MDA message is only applicable to public places and office buildings. The Site Blocked message is applicable to most homes.[41]

In 2005, the MDA banned a gay website and fined another website following complaints that the sites contained offensive content. The banned website is said to have promoted promiscuous sexual behaviour and recruited underage boys for sex and nude photography.[42] The government also maintains a "symbolic blocklist" of pornographic websites such as YouPorn and RedTube,[43] and blocks sites that it considered to have "flagrant disrespect of family values, public morality" such as extramarital dating site Ashley Madison.[44]

On 8 July 2014, Singapore passed amendments to its existing copyright law. The amendments allow copyrights holders to apply for court injunctions, making it compulsory for internet service providers block access to websites that "flagrantly-infringe" intellectual property.[45] The new law took effect in December 2014 and in September 2016, at the request of the Motion Picture Association of America(MPAA), Solarmovie.ph became the first website to be blocked under the amended act.[46] On May 2018, 53 torrent and streaming websites including The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents and Solarmovie.sc were blocked following an application by the MPAA, after 4 years of discussions.[47][48]

On 7 October 2014, the government passed the "Remote Gambling Act".[49] Under the new law it is an offence, punishable by jail terms and fines, for people to place bets on overseas gambling websites from Singapore. Advertisements for gambling websites are also outlawed. The law took effect on 1 February 2015 when several hundred remote gambling websites were blocked.[50]

Circumvention software[edit]

In order to get around the government's control of the Internet, citizens have developed numerous techniques. Software applications for circumventing web-blocking are readily available. Tor is in use through software including xB Browser and Vidalia, and a number of other proxy solutions including Proxify. Freenet is another popular solution available for free download from the Internet. GOM, a browser extension, is circumvention software specifically made for use in Singapore.[51]

Institutional blocks[edit]

The Ministry of Education (MOE) and individual tertiary educational providers impose censorship on individuals using their internet networks, with the help of filtering services for websites. Websites labelled under certain categories, such as criminal skills, pornography, cults/occult, extreme/obscene/violent and gambling were not viewable in these institutions. Socio-political blogger mrbrown's site was briefly blocked by the MOE for being labelled as 'extreme'.[52]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lee, Melanie (23 May 2008). "Singapore bans two porn websites in symbolic move". Reuters. 
  2. ^ Warf, Barney (23 November 2010). "Geographies of global Internet censorship". GeoJournal. 76: 1–23 – via SpringerLink. 
  3. ^ "MDA licensing rule could have 'chilling effects': Facebook, Google". Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  4. ^ "Singapore's freedom of speech in question: former NTU journalism professor". Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  5. ^ "Australian journalist jailed in Singapore for sedition". ABC News. 2016-03-24. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  6. ^ "Politics is no laughing matter in Singapore". Reuters. 20 December 2006. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  7. ^ Burton, John (2006-08-19). "Singapore's social contract under strain". Financial Times. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  8. ^ "Express yourself". The Guardian. 2006-07-11. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  9. ^ "Very grave libels: PM's lawyer". www.asiaone.com. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  10. ^ "PM Lee to take legal action against blogger Alex Au for false allegations". The Straits Times. 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  11. ^ Lum, Selina (2015-03-05). "Blogger Alex Au fined $8,000 for contempt of court". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  12. ^ "Singapore blogger Alex Au fined for 'scandalising' judiciary". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  13. ^ [1]Reuters, 26 July 2013
  14. ^ Wong, Tessa (2013-05-28). "MDA rolls out licence scheme for news websites". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  15. ^ "10 online news sites must follow traditional media regulations: MDA". Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  16. ^ Tham, Yuen-C (2014-11-10). "Company behind socio-political website TOC registers under class licence notification". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  17. ^ "Mothership.sg to come under online news licensing framework". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  18. ^ "The Independent has submitted its licensing registration forms: MDA". TODAYonline. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  19. ^ "MDA seeks registration of website The Middle Ground". TODAYonline. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  20. ^ Tan Chong Kee. 'The Canary and the Crow: Sintercom and the State Tolerability Index' in Kenneth Paul Tan ed. Renaissance Singapore? Economy, Culture, and Politics. Singapore University Press 2007.
  21. ^ Singapore-window.org Interview with Dr Tan Chong Kee, Singapore-Window,Accessed: 23-Dec-2006.
  22. ^ [2]Today Online, 17 August 2015
  23. ^ "Bloggers jailed for racist comments". 
  24. ^ "Rising debate over free speech". 
  25. ^ "Most S'poreans against Internet censorship: survey". 
  26. ^ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005, United States Department of State, retrieved 20 March 2006.
  27. ^ "Two bloggers charged under Sedition Act over racist remarks". 
  28. ^ "Bloggers jailed for racist comments". 
  29. ^ NTUC sacks staff for inappropriate Facebook comments, channelnewsasia.com, 8 October 2012.
  30. ^ [3], indiatimes.com, 2 January 2013.
  31. ^ "Singapore seen getting tough on dissent as cartoonist charged". Reuters. 2013-07-26. Retrieved 2017-08-20. 
  32. ^ [4]Cartoonists Rights, 31 July 2013
  33. ^ [5], indiatimes.com, 2 January 2013.
  34. ^ [6]Bloomberg, 26 July 2015
  35. ^ [7]New York Times, 24 March 2016
  36. ^ "Racial and religious offence: why censorship doesn't always cut it". 
  37. ^ An Overview of Cybercrime Legislation and Cases in Singapore, Gregor Urbas, Asian Law Institute (ANU), October 2008.
  38. ^ Mixing welfare and elitism in Singapore, Alex Au, Asia Times Online, 23 November 2006.
  39. ^ Consultation Paper on the Proposed Penal Code Amendments Archived 23 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine., Ministry of Home Affairs, 8 November 2006
  40. ^ "Censorship review committee Report of 2003" (PDF). Media Development Authority. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  41. ^ "The coming age of internet censorship". Retrieved 7 October 2012. 
  42. ^ "Singapore bans gay website". The Age Australia. 2005-10-28. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  43. ^ Lee, Melanie (23 May 2008). "Singapore bans two porn websites in symbolic move". Reuters. 
  44. ^ "MDA blocks access to Ashley Madison website". Today. 9 November 2013. 
  45. ^ Chia, Ashley (9 July 2014). "Amendments to Copyright Act aim to stop online piracy". Today. 
  46. ^ Tham, Irene (16 February 2016). "Solarmovie.ph is first piracy website to be blocked under amended Copyright Act". The Straits Times. 
  47. ^ "Singapore Passes Pirate Bay-Blocking Anti-Piracy Law". TorrentFreak. 
  48. ^ "53 piracy websites blocked in battle to curb copyright breach". The Straits Times. 21 May 2018. 
  49. ^ "Singapore poised to block all roads to unlicensed gambling websites". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 8 April 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  50. ^ "Singapore Blocks Access to Overseas Gambling Websites", Agence France-Presse (AFP), 3 February 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  51. ^ "How to access MDA blocked sites in Singapore with Chrome Browser". GOMVPN. Retrieved 9 April 2015. [better source needed]
  52. ^ "Ban on mr brown site lifted".