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The enforcement this month of new government licensing rules pushed Singaporeans to take to the streets. This comes as just another in a long string of internet regulation and internet freedom protests happening around the world. Recent news of growing privacy and access restrictions saw people in Australia, Taiwan, Turkey and many other countries taking steps to protect their freedoms. But the recent pubic rally held at the popular free-speech park Speaker’s Corner last Saturday is the first time we see netizens gathering to publicly defend their rights.
Impressive Public Internet Regulation Protest
150,000 Singaporeans, an unprecedented number since past centuries, assembled at the popular rally area to protest new rules governing the freedoms of news websites. Although there is quite a lot of grumbling going on at forums and blog sites, the US public has yet to gather forces in this way against internet regulation. With the ton of news coming out lately about privacy breaches, particularly the recent revelation of government agency involvement, we haven’t seen any real protest from the public. The stand that these netizens took is inspiring as a response to the need to take the protest to the next level after numerous dialogues with the government on internet deregulation failed.
The new rules order that a $35,500 bonded license is needed for every website publishing at least one local news article every week that has 50,000 or more unique Singapore visitors monthly. This includes non-Singapore based sites like Yahoo! News. The license also covers content regulation similar to what is currently applied to traditional news platforms. Specifically, any article deemed by Singapore’s Media Development Authority to contain elements that upset “racial and religious harmony” must be taken down. The internet regulation rules cover news websites and so will not govern blogs and other popular forums where users share information. This makes the protest more admirable as we see citizens standing up not for their personal internet rights but in defense of the greater freedoms affecting the entire state.
The protest, led by local blogger members of “Free My Internet”, was organized to be a peaceful rally. One call of the group stressed that the government needs to trust in the maturity of its citizens regarding online content. The Online Citizen co-founder Choo Zheng Xi, acting as spokesperson for the protesters, said that the group feels that internet regulation is backwards. To them, as a wealthy and advanced nation, this is a humiliation of international proportions.
As popular alternative news sources to the alleged pro-government newspapers, blogs and social media sites have gained a certain power. Bloggers and social media users have spoken out against the rules, protesting the neglect of the government to consult with the public before the internet regulation was implemented. One rally participant expressed the need for the government to adhere to the democratic principle and stop acting as if they had the right to pass laws based solely on their judgment and preferences.
The blogger organizers called for an internet blackout last Thursday in which over 130 bloggers participated. Similar to the protests against SOPA/PIPA and the more recent CISPA, the bloggers uploaded special home page screens, in this case a black background reading “#FreeMyInternet”. This organized social action is an impressive example of the unified stand that gives encouragement to all netizens out there who are firm believers in the right to privacy and freedom.