KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 6 — Despite a guarantee of no censorship in Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor, Datuk Seri Rais Yatim’s ministry is evaluating the feasibility of putting an Internet filter blocking “undesirable websites” — similar to China’s aborted “Green Dam” software.
The study is to be completed by this December and the results will be handed to a shadowy unit monitoring blogs and websites although the decision on implementation will lie with the National Security Council headed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Critics say any move to filter the Internet is against the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Bill of Guarantees apart from being largely ineffective as most Internet surfers can circumvent filters through proxy servers.
“It is a waste of time,” Dhillon Andrew Kannabhiran, chief executive officer of Internet security firm Hack in the Box, told The Malaysian Insider.
But the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry has conducted a tender exercise calling for companies to put proposals to assist the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) evaluate an Internet filter.
The move comes on the back of proposals to register bloggers, most of whom are said to be anti-government, and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition parties to have a larger Internet presence.
According to tender documents seen by The Malaysian Insider, the tenderer is:
• to evaluate the readiness and feasibility for the implementation of Internet filter at Internet gateway level, through assessments on the existing infrastructure and existing products in the market.
• to evaluate and estimate costs for the implementation.
• to study the existing legal framework in addressing content filtering and no censorship issue, including the impacts that are caused by the implementation to Internet users and the Malaysian economy.
The successful tenderer is also to visit Internet services oroviders (ISPs) and question them on various issues apart from studying countries which have some form of Internet filters to study the suitability for the Malaysian environment.
Among the recommended countries are India, Pakistan, Australia and Hong Kong. It is not known whether these countries use filters or what they are filtering.
Rais himself said last May that the proposal by some quarters for bloggers in Malaysia to be registered required in-depth study.
“The idea is good, but we have to see it from the legal aspects and from the aspect of freedom of Internet use. We have to see whether registering bloggers is in line with the provisions of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. We should not be hasty in implementing the proposal,” said the veteran minister.
But the move to filter blogs and websites is another matter altogether, Dhillon said.
“Filtering is 1990s technology and nobody is doing it anymore. Content-based filtering is so out of date that anybody can circumvent it easily using proxy servers,” he said, adding “even my mother can do it, it is not difficult.”
He pointed out that the government can implement the filter system and provide some short-term impact to those seeking to go to “undesirable” sites but “human nature is such it can find a way around it.”
“The government is wasting money and just playing catch-up,” Dhillon said.
He also pointed out that filtering content is censorship and goes against the MSC Bill of Guarantees Article 7 that reads “Ensure no Internet censorship”.
“No matter how they want to word it, it is semantics, any move to tell us where we can go, what we can read is censorship no matter how they justify it,” Dhillon added.
China controversially planned to install the “Green Dam Youth Escort” Internet filtering software on all computers but delayed implementation last July 1 although officials said it was only “a matter of time” until the software was installed.
In a notification to all users, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said: “In order to build a green, healthy, and harmonious online environment, and to avoid the effects on and the poisoning of our youth’s minds by harmful information on the Internet, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), Civilisation Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and Ministry of Finance, in accordance with the Government Procurement Law, have used CPC financial capital to purchase one-year exclusive rights to use ‘Green Dam Youth Escort’ Green Online Filtering Software (hereinafter referred to as ‘Green Dam Youth Escort’) along with related services so that the whole society may use it free of charge. After comprehensive testing and pilot use, the software has been shown to effectively filter harmful content in text and graphics on the Internet and has already satisfied the conditions for pre-installation by computer manufacturers.”
But the country’s Internet users mounted a vociferous campaign against the policy that led to the MIIT delaying using the filter which officials claim will help to curb access to pornography, particularly by younger users.
Internet users say the image and keyword filter blocks pornographic, violent and politically sensitive content and monitors behaviour and fear it will be used to curb access to information and keep track of users.
Green Dam has also come under fire for exposing users to security breaches, with experts warning it could easily be hacked, and a US-based software firm is threatening to sue the Chinese developers for copyright infringement.
Industry bodies, the US government and others had also called on China to abandon the project.