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Countries toughen laws

After months of policy deliberation, the governments of Singapore and Germany are taking stringent steps toward regulating the Internet.

After months of policy deliberation, the governments of Singapore and Germany are taking increasingly stringent steps toward regulating the Internet.

Singapore, which had initially seemed surprisingly receptive to concerns raised about planned online policies, has established regulations that will require Internet service providers to maintain proxy servers that will deny access to political, religious, and pornographic sites deemed inappropriate by the government.

Germany is also reconsidering tougher Internet laws as it faces new controversies over inappropriate sites, such as one that displays photographs of a human body being dismembered. The government had softened its public rhetoric about online content after being criticized for persuading U.S.-based online service CompuServe to shut down certain newsgroups.

On September 15, the Singapore Broadcasting Authority, which implements Internet censorship laws enacted by the city-state, plans to enforce guidelines that will allow its citizens limited access to the Web based on its own criteria, according to Reuters news service. The country's three Internet service providers, Pacific Internet, SingNet and CyberWay, will require their combined base of 120,000 subscribers to link to servers that will ban sites as directed by the new guidelines.

"The proxy servers will provide us with the most efficient method of assessing often-accessed material and blocking out objectionable sites," the Broadcast Authority said.

Singaporean officials announced plans to take a stronger role in overseeing Internet content in March but were met with immediate objection from citizens who said proposed regulations amounted to government censorship. In April, officials said the government would relax its policies toward the Net.

But just last month, the Broadcast Authority passed a law that requires Internet users and Singapore-based newsgroups to register with the agency, as well as requiring certification that costs up to $1,000. Companies that refused to register faced fines and loss of their operating licenses.

The regulations have already affected at least one anonymous newsgroup that criticized a local law firm. The newsgroup was quickly taken down even though it was posted from the United States.

The new law has received its share of criticism, both internally and abroad. "It's just another way that the government is trying to control the free flow of information in this country," Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, told Reuters last month.

At a grassroots level, a group of Singaporean citizens opened a "Responsibility Not Regulation" campaign that itself could be illegal as of September 15.

No such laws have been enacted in Germany, but the government is grappling with proposals to address such cases as a current investigation of a series of 12 grisly photos posted on the Internet.

The photos, posted from Hawaii, show a man and a woman sawing the head and other body parts off a corpse, according to Munich police. The text accompanying the pictures says that the photos depict a crime committed in the United States in the early 1980s. The couple has since been convicted.

As a result of these and other incidents, the German government has been pressured by lobby groups to take action and regulate the Internet.

Access providers will not be expected to police the Internet under legislation now being drafted, according to German Justice Minister Edzard Schmidt-Jortzig. They will, however, be expected to take action if they learn of potentially offensive material from Internet users.

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