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Fencing the internet

It’s fortunate that this year the ICAS conference is being held in KL, and I have the time to attend, seeing as not much else is happening to me right now. I always enjoy going to such conferences, and getting the chance to see experts impart their detailed knowledge.

There are an extraordinary amount of panels going on: 23 rooms with normally four sessions each per day – 92 in all! Which may explain why some of them had very poor attendance. Or maybe it was just the ones I attended? Whatever, although there is not much about the internet, I was lucky enough to catch a couple of interesting ones.

One by Terry Johal, a Singaporean who talked about the role of the legislative and the judiciary in the Singaporean reaction to blogs, and online media in general. He noted how the MSM has an increased coverage of blogs since 2005; commented on the various scandals (SPG’s nude photos, “sensitive army photos” being published; the ‘handicapped toilet’ debacle that led to Malaysian bloggers being drawn in too; and some others). Actually he said an awful lot of stuff, and I can’t put it all here, but the gist of it was that the Singaporean government relies heavily on “common law” and precedence as a way of inferring that what is not specifically allowed is prohibited, and also uses “drift net legislation”, such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (1990) that makes it illegal to “cause ill-feelings between religious groups” – this is quite imprecise, and therefore can be used to cover many types of situations. He also pointed out that although the Internet Code of Practice could have been used in certain situations with bloggers, instead defamation laws or the above-mentioned Religious Harmony Act were used – because this would have less impact in an international sense.

In relation to the last point, he described how when there was some issue with Mr. Brown (I think), the fact that the MSM took it on, and the government weighed in, what was a “non-event in internet time” (i.e. it would have died out in a couple of days) became a big issue in the local and then international media – attracting unwanted negative publicity for Singapore.

Also, finally, he mentioned an Australian court case where it was decided that the place of publishing is where it is downloaded (discussion here). To take a topical case:

“For all intents and purposes, Malaysia Today is a foreign website and not a Malaysian website. We therefore do not come under Malaysian laws.” (Raja Petra Kamarudin)

According to the principle set in Australia (which doesn’t have to apply here, that’s up to the Malaysian court) even if RPK’s server is not in Malaysia, the fact that people read his blog here in Malaysia means that a Malaysian court can rule on it.

Another very interesting talk was by a Korean, Yeon Ok-Lee, entitled “The Internet Real-Name System and Privacy Trade-Off in Korea” – but I don’t have time to blog about that now. Will do in future. Google the title and you'll see what it is about.