Have You Got The License to Blog?
Posted on 10th April, 2007
In case you’ve missed the news, the Malaysian Government is considering registering local bloggers in a move which they hope will prevent the spread of negative or malicious content on the Internet.
On the 5 April 2007, The Star Online published an article about the Deputy Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor proposing bloggers using locally hosted websites may be asked to register with the authorities.
Shaziman said there are about 50,000 websites registered under the .my domain and any of these websites could provide a fertile ground for the concoction of malicious content which could harm the country’s security.
Unfortunately, this statement only show the lack of understand on his part on how the Internet works locally. When I compiled the Malaysia’s 50 most influential blogs, I found that NONE of the blogs were using a .my domain. This reflects the preference for the majority of the Malaysian bloggers who mostly use the .com domain as a domain of their choice.
Registering a blogger is not as straight forward as asking prepaid mobile phone users to register unless the government has a full control on the Internet.
One thing, this move could not only hurt the local web hosting industry, but the entire local blogging and blog advertising industries because bloggers will be compelled to choose web hosting companies from outside of Malaysia to host their blogs in order to protect their freedom to blog.
Those who prefer to protect their identity could easily hide their domain registration information from those prying eyes who conducted a WHOIS search on a domain. Our local cyber law isn’t enforceable overseas and this will put a stop to law enforcement officers on their track to identify domain owners.
Also there’s nothing preventing the owners to fake registration information to protect their identity.
Perhaps Shaziman didn’t realized, of those 50,000 .my domains, it’s probably just a handful are blogs. The content of the rest could vary from a forum, a news website, an ecommerce site, and so on.
Are they going to visit all these domains individually one at a time to track which one is a blog and which isn’t? Further more, blogs are not the only websites that carry critical views of the government polices.
These blogging platforms are owned by US companies and are located in the US. Last time I checked our local cyber law doesn’t extend beyond the Malaysian shores.
Then the next day Shaziman was forced to explain what he meant after his proposal was met with strong criticisms in the cyberspace.
I only said ‘maybe’ we would do it (registration). I never said the word ‘censor’," he told reporters after launching PosLaju’s "Putrajaya Express", a same-day courier service to the city and Cyberjaya.
We just want to know the number of bloggers, how many are active, how often they update their websites, and what kind of info is posted. It has nothing to do with censoring."
Shaziman kept repeating throughout the press conference that the intention to register bloggers was not censorship and that it was only a possibility in the distant future. We are not certain. It is just an idea. Maybe one day, not now.
Whether it’s a “definite” or a “may be” proposal, the move will only make him and the local authority look dumb in the eyes of the world.
It may be just registration now but this move could pave the way to a full blown Internet censoring which violates the Government’s no-censoring policy with regards to the Internet. This is because, they do not only have to keep a watchful eye on blogs but other websites too for this proposal become effective.
While I totally agree that bloggers should blog responsibly, requiring them to register is not going to prevent the spread of negative or critical views of the government policies on the Internet.
If this proposal were to be implemented, perhaps they’ll be clever enough to develop a script to detect a blog – malicious or not – hosted on a .my domain automatically – if they ever.
Unless the government starts to build a giant firewall around Malaysia – like what China is doing now, implementing this proposal is close to impossible.
Instead of trying to stop the blogging phenomena, the government should accept the fact that the people they are supposed to represent are beginning to find a voice. As Lim Kit Siang, parliamentary opposition leader suggested, instead of coming up with ways to inhibit blogging, these ministers should be educated to start blogging themselves to invite a more a more interactive, communicative style of government.