The Singapore online community has responded to a new Internet law by launching a "Responsibility Not Regulation" black-ribbon campaign that itself could be illegal under statutes that took effect today.
Last week, the Singapore Broadcast
Authority declared that companies or groups providing Internet access or content must be licensed with the government to protect the "public morals, political stability and religious harmony" of the economically supercharged island nation.
A check of the published
guidelines shows a wide range of subjects that the Broadcasting Authority says "should
not be allowed," including racial or religious satire, homosexuality, and content that "misleads or alarms" the public or "jeopardizes national
The wide range of possible interpretation of the prohibitions has already
alarmed some within Singapore and abroad, and opponents have launched an online campaign
symbolized by a black
ribbon. Ironically, their Web site could be interpreted as "contents
which excite disaffection against the Government," another one of the categories banned by the Broadcasting Authority.
The registration rules, which charge up to $1,000 for a license, have
already persuaded one user to move a site of Buddhist
writings, listed by the government as an example of religious material that
needs to be registered, from a Singapore server to one in the United States.
Curiously, the Broadcasting Authority lists news services and individual home pages as exempt from licensing and therefore unaffected by the new regulation of content. But a spokesman for the agency said over the weekend that financial institutions that provide online news and commentary are
also subject to the new regulations, according to the Singapore-based
Financial institutions quoted in the report said they aren't worried by the
however, as their online content is already scrutinized by the country's stock
Foreign companies like Global One
and UUNet Technologies that provide backbone connections
for Singapore's national Internet service providers don't expect to be
affected either by the tax or by the government's censorship.
"On the surface it seems unlikely we'd be required to have a license," said
Eric Scace, vice president, international development at UUNet, which
focuses mainly on the business market. Nor does Scace seem too concerned
about the effects of the law on free speech.
"With respect to what the Singapore government is likely to impose, we
don't see it as having a major impact. It goes against the culture I was
raised in, but the culture that exists in other countries is different,"
Scace said. "Our job is to move information around. We have no interest in
what's inside that information."
But the Singapore government does, and the new laws give its Broadcasting Authority the right
to ask ISPs to remove content as specific as Web pages and newsgroup
postings from their service.
Singapore law restricts
New taxes threaten local