18 Aug 2005

Singapore's net controls shun filters

The AgeNew York
August 18, 2005 - 10:40AM

Singapore maintains some of the world's tightest restrictions on free expression on the internet, but unlike other regimes, it doesn't do it with technological filters.

Instead Singapore controls the web through an unusual mix of legal pressures and access restrictions, according to a new study by three universities.

Testing of 1632 websites by the OpenNet Initiative found only eight blocked, mostly for pornography.

"If you look at it alongside places like China and Iran, Singapore's technical internet censorship regime is mild by comparison," said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University, which formed the OpenNet Initiative with the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge.

Singapore's government manages to restrict discussions on politics and religion by requiring sites on those topics to obtain licences, the report found.

Internet service providers also must comply with regulations banning speech deemed offensive or harmful.

To discourage dissent, the government also uses defamation laws that favour plaintiffs and puts defendants at risk of hundreds of thousands of dollars in liability, the report found.

The report cited the case of a University of Illinois student from Singapore who was threatened with a lawsuit over comments made on his web journal.

Singapore's Agency of Science, Technology and Research agreed not to sue after he shut down his blog and apologised for comments he had posted about the agency.

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