June 17th, 2009
New research from the OpenNet Initiative reveals accelerating restrictions on Internet content as Asian governments shift to next generation controls. These new techniques go beyond blocking access to websites and are more informal and fluid, implemented at edges of the network, and are often backed up by increasingly restrictive and broadly interpreted laws.
The reports also point to an emerging inclination for states to actively engage in cyberspace as a way to achieve the same effects of information controls:
“Since 2006, many Asian governments have quickly realized the potential benefits of exploiting opportunities for conducting propaganda or public relations strategies over the Internet, even while cracking down on independent and critical voices thriving in these online spaces– an example of the evolution towards next generation controls,” said Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and one of four principal investigators at the ONI.
The OpenNet Initiative is the global leader in the study of Internet censorship and a collaborative partnership of three leading academic institutions: the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto; the SecDev Group (formerly the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, Cambridge University); and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University.
China, Burma, and Vietnam continued to block with the greatest breadth and depth, spanning human rights issues, reform and opposition activities, independent media and news, and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Singapore continued to block a nominal amount of adult content and pornographic Web sites.
Singapore, whose political elite have a long history of pursuing their opponents and critics with costly and frequent defamation suits, strengthened its penal code with amendments (effective in 2008) to include crimes committed by electronic means. For example, abetting a crime now includes acts done outside of Singapore, as long as the crime was committed in Singapore.
In May 2008, blogger Gopalan Nair, a US citizen living in Fremont, California, had returned to Singapore to support Dr. Chee Soon Juan in defamation proceedings. On May 29, Nair posted his observations of the trial and called High Court judge Belinda Ang a “stooge” who was “prostituting herself” as an employee of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Mentor Minister Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Nair was also accused of insulting another judge in an e-mail from 2006, and ultimately convicted of “intentional insult or interruption to a public servant sitting in any stage of a judicial proceeding” and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment on September 17, 2008.
The reports for Asia, as well as Burma, China, Pakistan, and South Korea will be featured in a forthcoming MIT Press volume, Access Controlled: The Shaping of Rights, Rule, and Power in Cyberspace, to be published by MIT Press (2010). Access Controlled will include a series of analytical chapters and regional overviews that contribute to the developing discourse around global Internet regulation and censorship raised in the first ONI volume Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering, (Cambridge: MIT Press) 2008.