Malaysia considers, backs down from national Internet filter

Last week Malaysia's Information, Communications and Culture Minister Dr. Rais Yatim announced that the country would consider implementing a nationwide Internet filtering plan similar to China's Green Dam. This week, the Prime Minister pulled an about face, claiming there would be "no change" in the country's Internet policy.

The government, which has been led by the Barisian Nasional coalition for nearly 40 years, seems to be conflicted: just hours before the Prime Minister's announcement, Dr. Rais told AsiaOne that the government still planned to "find any way to ensure we are free from the culture of pornography among children."

Reuters reports that Prime Minister Najib Razak blocked Dr. Rais' initial efforts toward filtering last April, suggesting that Dr. Rais may have been acting without the full support of the government when he directed the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to issue a tender for an Internet filter.

Further confusing matters, Dr. Rais told Reuters that the tender instructed three government ministries to look into a variety of ways of curbing online crimes, including sedition and child pornography. However, Reuters obtained a copy of the document, which stated that its purpose was to "Evaluate the readiness and feasibility of the implementation of the Internet filter at (the) Internet gateway level."

Opposition politicians and free speech activists have been quick to criticize the entire proposal, noting that it violates a 1996 governmental guarantee that Malaysia will never censor the Internet. The AFP reports:

Malaysia's lively blogosphere has been a thorn in the side of the Barisan Nasional government, which was been in power for more than half a century but was dealt its worst ever results in elections a year ago.

Internet news portals and blogs, which escape tight controls on the mainstream media, were credited as a key element in the swing towards the opposition which has been adept at using new media to communicate its ideas.

While the Prime Minister's announcement has eased some fears, the future of Internet filtering in Malaysia is still unclear.