End symbolic ban of harmful websites, says Censorship Review Committee



September 16th, 2010

The Censorship Review Committee has added its voice to calls that Singapore stop its practice of banning a symbolic list of pornographic and extremist websites.

The idea had been mooted first by members of the Bloggers13 network of socio-political bloggers and then the government-appointed AIMS committee. Singapore already has only negligible blocking of websites, according to  the OpenNet Initiative , which tracks online censorship annually. Singapore’s bans are meant to signpost society’s values rather than an attempt to clean up the web.

AIMS, however, had observed that the approach could backfire, lulling parents into a false sense of security that the government was filtering out smut. The Censorship Review Committee, similarly, is suggesting that parents to take over from the nanny state.

Its report, released yesterday, said: “Token gestures should be replaced by more effective tools for adults to exercise control over content access for themselves, and for their families.”

It recommended: “The symbolic 100-website ban imposed by the government should be replaced with a transparent, server-level filtering service, combined with a simple and well-highlighted choice to opt in at the point of subscribing to or renewing the Internet service.”

The committee acknowledged that the government should retain its power to ban websites on the grounds of national security. “However, some form of checks should be put in place to ensure transparency and accountability of such government actions,” it added, in line with a key thrust of the Bloggers13 recommendations.

The report added: “There should be clear accountability for censorship decisions. The competent authority should be identified when a decision is taken to disallow or censor.”

While any change in policy towards banning would not directly affect journalistic sites – since no such sites are blocked – the move would be seen as an important adjustment in censorship principles, away from what the committee called the overly protective “quarantine” approach to harmful media content, towards “vaccination with education, information and the exercise of parental responsibility”.

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