While the Malaysian government has ensured that there would be no censorship of the Internet in the country, a leaked memo requesting Malaysian ISPs to block file-hosting sites suggests that the term “censorship” can be interpreted in many ways.
The memo in question appears to be issued by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on May 30, and was leaked on Facebook, Malaysia-based Lowyat.Net forum, and blogs on June 9.
In the two-page document (you can see here), the MCMC requested that Malaysian ISPs block access to ten file-hosting and sharing URLs, including Megaupload, Fileserve, and The Pirate Bay. It cited Section 268 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which states that ISPs (licensees) must try their best to prevent its network from being used for activities that contravenes with Malaysian law.
The MCMC, which is the country’s industry regulator, has yet to deny or confirm the memo’s authenticity. Update: The document was confirmed and the ban is in effect, reported Malaysian newspapers.
It states that ISPs are obliged to help the MCMC “in preventing the commission or attempted commission of an offence under any written law of Malaysia” for “the protection of the public revenue and preservation of national security”.
When it comes to censorship, the Malaysian government has issued mixed messages. In August 2010, news portal The Malaysian Insider broke the story that the MCMC commissioned a feasibility study for an Internet filter to block “undesirable websites”, not unlike China’s Green Dam. This was quashed a few days later by the country’s Information Minister Rais Yatim, but the censorship spectre still lingers on with incidents like these, and constant reminders by the country’s Prime Minister that there would be no censorship of the Internet.
Erna Mahyuni, editor for Goreng.my and columnist for The Malaysian Insider, however cautioned the public from making the MCMC the bad guys in this matter, as they just take orders from “higher ups”.
“I suspect they had little choice in the matter. When I was with another Internet news portal, the MCMC had also visited after a ‘complaint’ that had been filed about a video involving not very nice things being done to a cow head.
“MCMC has, in fact, very few enforcement officials… It was also obvious that they didn’t want to be there but were there only because of directives sent from “higher ups.” It all smacked of political interference,” she wrote.
According to blogger Lim YH from GreyReview, this is not the first time the MCMC is making such a request, but “this is ‘probably the most comprehensive’ directive yet, according to (his) source. This is a rather disturbing trend,” he wrote.
At the time of writing, the sites listed were still accessible to the Malaysian public, but according to the blog Wirawan, which first broke the story, “It seems that Streamyx did block Megaupload, Fileserve and etc, for a short while and they unblock them after.”
Regardless of who’s to blame, the move to block legitimate and commercial file-sharing and hosting sites does not sit well with the country’s drive towards a knowledge-rich economy.