But Web-enabled mobile phones a concern for Internet Advisory Committee
Friday • July 7, 2006
Tor Ching Li
WHEN it comes to new media platforms such as the blogosphere, the light touch is still the right touch, says the National Internet Advisory Committee (NIAC).
The 27-member committee, appointed by the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, said in its 2005 annual report released yesterday that "from a legal perspective, (blogs) are simply 'old wine in new wine bottles'".
As the blogs — or online journals — are "not sufficiently distinct from a web-based discussion forum where users can post entries and comments", the NIAC deemed that there was no need to update the Media Development Authority's (MDA) Class Licence regulatory framework to accommodate blogs.
Currently, blogs operated by an individual for commercial, political or religious purposes would automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the Class Licence. The Class Licence scheme, introduced in 1996 together with a code of practice, allows regulators to ask operators of political or religious websites to get registered. The code outlines what the community regards as offensive or harmful to Singapore's racial and religious harmony.
This is the second time in three years that the NIAC has been tasked with reviewing the regulatory framework to take into account emerging new media services.
The report stated that existing laws are sufficient to deter errant blogging, citing the examples of the possible legal action from A*Star against one of its scholars for alleged defamatory comments on his blog, and the conviction of three racist bloggers under the Sedition Act last year.
Technology lawyer Brian Tan from Keystone Law Corporation agreed that the Government has been able to regulate blog content within the existing framework.
"It's good that the community can regulate itself and has been given the opportunity to do so," he said.
The committee reiterated the need for a three-pronged approach to ensure Internet safety, comprising a light-touch regulatory framework, industry self-regulation and empowering and educating parents and users on responsible usage.
Said NIAC chairman Professor Bernard Tan: "New media services such as mobile technology, from SMS to mobile Internet access, have become increasingly popular and an integral part of everyday life. Such rapid advancements in technology increase the risk of exposure to undesirable materials online, especially to young children."
One technology of concern highlighted by the committee was Internet-enabled mobile phones.
The NIAC strongly recommended mobile Internet service providers to offer tools such as the Family Access Networks currently available to wired Internet access to manage their children's Internet access on mobile phones.
But recognising the "strong concerns" of the mobile phone operators regarding the software and hardware costs of setting up such a network, the committee accepted instead, the operators' offer of deactivating the General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) for mobile phone accounts as a more practical option.
Since last year, StarHub, SingTel and MobileOne have also entered into a voluntary code for self-regulation of mobile content in Singapore to protect users from undesirable mobile content.
This move was "a positive development that will complement the existing light touch regulatory framework for mobile and Internet services whilst providing a safer environment for mobile users in Singapore," said Ms Ling Pek Ling, MDA's director of media policy.