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Censored Internet A Month Away In Singapore


Any Singaporeans wishing to surf the more risque parts of the Internet have just one month to do it as new Internet regulations will take place from September 15. From that day, users will have the option of censored local access or full, free access via an international telephone call.

In a month's time, users attempting to access proscribed services will receive the message, "The site you requested is not accessible. For more information on Singapore's Internet regulation, please check /regrel.htm ."

Under the regulations, companies supplying access to the Internet or content for Internet based information services are classified into one of several classes. Each class has a different set of license conditions it must accept.

Most people will be touched by the regulations on Internet Access Service Providers (IASPs). In Singapore there are three -- SingNet, Pacific Internet, and CyberWay -- and each has now set up a proxy server through which the Internet will be filtered.

Originally proxy servers were intended to speed up access for customers using slow connections. The computer stores copies of Web pages on a local hard disk so, when clients request pages, they are served from the local cache rather than retrieved from distant servers on the network.

From next month in Singapore, direct access to Web servers will be blocked and users will be made to use the proxy servers. Once the entire Internet is stored on a local hard disk it then becomes very easy to remove pages, thus cutting off local access but not causing any difference to users in other countries.

In addition to controls on Web sites, IASPs will also have to remove newsgroups and even individual articles from their own news servers on instruction from the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), the body charged with regulating the network.

The second license class covers establishments such as cybercafes and community net access points. License requirements include using the Web proxy servers and not allowing access to news servers other than those carrying sanitized news feeds. Two other license classes exist and the requirements are broadly similar.

Something all have in common will be the requirement to assist the SBA in attempts to gather evidence and sanction errant users.

As for the material that won't be allowed, the SBA highlighted three areas of concern that will be regulated. They include public security and national defense, racial and religious harmony, and public morals.

In the area of public security and national defense, the regulations disallow contents which "jeopardize public security or national defense, undermine the public confidence in the administration of justice, present information or events in such a way that alarms or misleads all or any part of the public, tend to bring the Government into hatred or contempt, or which excite disaffection against the Government."

Under the second heading of racial and religious harmony, banned pages are those that contain contents which, "denigrate or satirize any racial or religious group, bring any race or religion into hatred or resentment, or promote religious deviations or occult practices such as Satanism."

Finally, in the field of public morals, prohibited contents include those which, "are pornographic or otherwise obscene, propagate permissiveness or promiscuity, depict or propagate gross exploitation of violence, nudity, sex or horror, or depict or propagate sexual perversions such as homosexuality, lesbianism, and paedophilia."

Some organizations are also exempt from the law, including the many overseas Internet providers that get an Internet backbone connection through Singapore Telecom's STIX Internet exchange. This Internet traffic simply passes through the country and local users do not have access to these links.

The country has a similar arrangement with TV programmers. It has successfully managed to attract many pan-Asian satellite TV broadcasters to base in the country because its strict media laws are not applied to them. Their broadcasts leave the country freely but are censored when returning.

Full information on the regulations is available from the Singapore Broadcasting Authority's Web server at /regrel.htm .

Meanwhile, much discussion on the subject is going on in soc.culture.singapore on Usenet. Most user complaints seem to be associated with the speed differences when using the proxy servers rather than the censorship. There was some negative posts though with one user talking about getting an account overseas. He commented, "That's when I'll subscribe to an overseas ISP. Cost is no object. Information (or lack of it) is."


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