July 11, 1996 11:15 AM PDT

Singapore law restricts Internet

Singapore today created its own law restricting material on the Internet to "safeguard the national interest," government officials said.

The Singapore Broadcasting Authority announced new rules intended to regulate political, religious, and pornographic content online. Operators of Internet companies, including service providers, cybercafes, and organizations with sites that provide political and religious information about Singapore, must register with the Broadcast Authority under the new rules.

Under measures to take effect July 15, the agency can impose fines and revoke the operating licenses of companies that refuse to register, authority CEO Goh Liang Kwang told Reuters news service. "It's just another way that the government is trying to control the free flow of information in this country," added Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party.

The law is the first to be enacted by a foreign country since a a special panel of federal judges rejected the Communications Decency Act in the United States in June. Legal experts and industry executives have been monitoring international reaction to the ruling against the U.S. decency law, a decision that theoretically could have ramifications worldwide.

There was no immediate indication that the Singaporean law would have any direct effect on companies or individuals outside the island nation's borders. Some countries, such as Germany, have considered taking measures against U.S. and other companies or individuals that have created or distributed offensive material on the Internet.

Singapore government officials expect the new rules to be enforced by the 100,000 Internet users their country. Operators might be required to block Web sites that contain material deemed objectionable, including types of information that "tend to bring the government into hatred or contempt or which excite disaffection against the government," a Broadcasting Authority statement said.

The agency said it would be difficult to provide an example of an anti-government message--which is precisely why opponents of the new law say its regulations are too broad. Similar concerns were raised in arguments against the CDA, which would ban material considered indecent and patently offensive that is accessible to minors online.

Singaporean officials acknowledge that it will be difficult to police the entire Net. Nevertheless, Goh said, "We don't want objectionable material to be easily available...We just want to keep this part of the Internet within our immediate neighborhood clean."

Related stories:
Net effect of CDA unclear worldwide
Asian countries face Net paradox
Singapore denies Net crackdown

 

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