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Nations debate Internet regulation

Southeast Asian broadcasters and government officials meet in Singapore to discuss Internet regulation but don't reach agreement on standards for what is objectionable content for the Net.

Southeast Asian broadcasters and government officials met in Singapore today to discuss Internet regulation but did reach agreement on standards for what is objectionable content for the Net.

Delegates from the represented nations said they want to stop the spread of pornography and racist literature but are having a difficult time deciding how far regulation should go or how it should be enforced, according to a report in Reuters news service. The three-day forum, organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, includes delegates from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

"Our concerns include pornography, hate literature, and other objectionable materials in cyberspace," said Mohamad Maidin Packer, Singapore's parliamentary secretary for the Ministry of Information and the Arts. "ASEAN countries will need to develop their responses to these concerns to maintain values that they hold dear."

Some Asian countries have been particularly severe in their approach to Internet regulation, posing internal policy dilemmas as they try to maximize the economic potential of the new medium. Many ASEAN nations are especially interested in high technology to continue their unprecedented economic growth.

Two months ago, Singapore introduced a law called the Class License Scheme, which requires the nation's three Internet service providers, political parties that maintain Web sites, individuals with sites on politics and religion, and online newspapers to register with the government within 14 days of operation.

These groups also must block material deemed objectionable by the government, including depictions of homosexuality, lesbianism, pedophilia, and contents that denigrates race or religion. Failing to comply with the law will result in loss of a license and the imposition of fines.

Most neighboring countries, including the Philippines, encourage self-regulation and impose few controls on ISPs. One delegate pointed out that Internet control will not work because users could dial into ISPs in other countries.