Internet censorship: What you allow is what will continue

  • Somebody blocked access to a BBC blog on the kangkung meme, despite soft denials
  • If we allow them to get away with this, we’re allowing it to happen again … and again

Internet censorship: What you allow is what will continueI SAW this (on the left) on this pro-firearm FB page and felt a connection with it instantly. The events that happened within the last few days have been – how should I say it? – epic.
 
When the BBC published this blog, it didn’t know it would become the most widely shared article in Malaysia and inadvertently lead to this article by Digital News Asia (DNA). How I got my foot stuck in was purely by accident.
 
I was up late trying to fix a roundcube installation on the VPS (virtual private server) when someone pinged me about being unable to access the BBC article. I worked with @kaerumy (Sinar Proiject cofounder Khairil Yusof) to let the good folks at DNA know; they broke the story, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Internet censorship: What you allow is what will continue

What happened within the space of 24 hours was that an unknown entity managed to clearly deny access to a piece of Internet content, an article that was meant to be read and shared on the Web. An idea. A joke.
 
And they tried to censor it. Like children with their hands caught in the cookie jar.
 
You see, censoring or restricting access to the World Wide Web is not something new. They tried it with SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). The Chinese had their Great Firewall of China. And they all failed. The Internetz fought back.
 
In 2011, the United Nations condemned the actions of France and United Kingdom in its ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression . In the report’s introduction, it says:
 

… believes that the Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.”

 
Further down in Chapter III, the report also states that:
 

Indeed, the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
 
The latter provides that:
 
  • Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference;
  • Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice;
  • The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
  • for respect of the rights or reputations of others;
  • for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals

Apparently someone missed the bold parts outlined in the UN report.

Internet censorship: What you allow is what will continue

The freedom to access the Internet is something we take for granted. We often think that it is there, ready at our fingertips. With the explosion of mobile technology, more people are taking to the Internet to find information, to get news, to conduct businesses and for some, even to find a slice of happiness in whatever form they see fit.
 
We have the resources to search the almost infinite region of cyberspace to seek information, knowledge and learn new things, new ideas, even a whole new perspective.
 
But with the action of this unknown entity, there arises a new conundrum. Exactly how much freedom is there on the Internet?
 
No doubt, we do have some undesirables lurking on the dark side of the Net (pedophilia, neo-Nazi fanatics,  etc.), but the World Wild Web pretty much regulates itself. Even the notorious /b/ chan forums are pretty decently moderated by its own community.
 
But what the Internet does not need is a single entity that regulates what should and should not be on it. Nor does it need a national policy from an administration that subverts and redacts information to suit its idealist propaganda.
 
When a ruling cadre tries to censor its own undesirables from being known by their own people, it creates a nation of surveillance, a police state where communication and access to information is curtailed. It is sieving the ugly truth from its citizens and only allowing the sweet lies in to lull these citizens into a sense of false optimism.
 
And this should not happen.

Internet censorship: What you allow is what will continue

As citizens, is there any way we and our fellow can stop allowing this to happen? Here are a few things you can do:
 

  • Sinarproject.org, an NGO (non-governmental organisation) advocating transparency in local governance, has open-sourced a tool, currently written in Python, to check if access to particular links are filtered. No doubt, it is a dirty, hackish code, but it does have its uses. The code is open-sourced and is available for anyone to use, adapt and even enhance. Help improve the tool and distribute it as far and wide as possible.
  • Demand that the Internet Service Provider (ISP) operating in your area provide reasons on why your access was limited, bad or slow. As consumers, we have the right to choose the best value for our money. Unless the ISPs are willing to improve and provide assurances, hit them where it hurts the most – using your wallets.
  • Never settle for canned answers. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) provided its feedback on the ‘alleged’ filtering with a typical response. Do not stop questioning. Never forget that this has happened before. More than once. The events detailed in this G+ post by Sinarproject and from this forum thread  at LYN forums is proof that there is an unknown entity actively at work – selectively denying us the access to information.
  • Use every means necessary to stay online. Use proxies, alternate DNS servers and VPN tunnels to ensure that you are not being filtered. If you are technically inclined, use the TOR network.
  • Support local efforts to keep the Internet free. You have the choice to deny what they are planning to do. Hence the words: What You Allow is What Will Continue.

We are now in a position to make a change. With the widespread use of mobile technology and the electronic signals, the citizens of this country are more aware of, more attuned to and more enlightened on efforts to silence whistleblowers.
 
It is our duty as citizens of this country to seek information, truth and stand up for our rights to access this information whatever it may reside.
 
Internet censorship in Malaysia, in fact any sort of censorship that restricts the flow of information, must be resisted before it takes root and becomes accepted as common practice in our society. The truth must see the light. In the words of Martin Niemöller:
 

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

 
If we do not stop this selective filtering of information, I fear that the ruling cadre will continue to suppress and manipulate information to suit its own agenda, thus effectively subverting the voice of the people to a mere whisper.
 
By treating this issue as a non-problem, we would be responsible for allowing future generations to be fed by misinformation and subterfuge, peddled by the propaganda machine.
 
However, be wary of spreading rumours and false information. With the ease of obtaining and receiving information present today, the scaremongers and spin doctors can spread false news and hoaxes to a wider audience.
 
There are many who seek to disguise and manipulate information to provoke and agitate the vox populi into angry voices and ultimately resorting to violence to suit their own agenda. Always verify and counter-check your stories before sharing, as some of us tend to abuse the share button all too veraciously.
 
You can’t stop the signal.
 
sniffit is a lifelong student by day and a network ninja by night. He is a Fedora enthusiast, gaming nut and self-aware geek who supports Net freedom and neutrality, constantly re-imagining new uses for open source software. This article previously appeared on his digitalmalaya::1 blog and is reprinted here with his kind permission.
 
Related Stories:
 
Net censorship: BBC story on kangkung fiasco blocked? (Updated)
 
Week in Review: Defending the rights of all Malaysian netizens
 
The kangkung block: Denial seems to be the best defence
 
First they came for old media, then …
 
 
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