Malaysia denies Internet filter will curb dissent

KUALA LUMPUR Fri Aug 7, 2009 5:09pm EDT

Internet users surf at a cyber cafe in Kuala Lumpur August 7, 2009. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

Internet users surf at a cyber cafe in Kuala Lumpur August 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia denied on Friday that a proposed Internet filter would be used to police blogs and websites, saying it would be used only to block pornography.

The denial comes after news that the Southeast Asian country was considering setting up an Internet filter similar to China's "Green Dam" software, a move the opposition said was aimed at suppressing political dissent.

While Malaysia has used sedition laws and imprisonment without trial to prosecute one leading political blogger, censoring political websites is not the aim of the filter said Information Minister Rais Yatim. "The safety of our children is not an Internet game. We will find any way to ensure we are free from the culture of pornography among children," Rais told a news conference in the Malaysian capital.

"Those who call themselves liberals should look at what has happened to other countries who have become victims, where child sex occurs and pornography is widespread," he said.

Malaysia's argument echoes China's rationale for a planned filter to stamp out Internet pornography that drew criticism from the United States and the computer industry.

China has delayed its "Green Dam" plan indefinitely but Malaysia, with a population of 27 million, is in the process of evaluating the feasibility of implementing such a filter, Rais said.

Green Dam critics say the software was technically flawed and could have been used to spy on Internet users and to block sites that Beijing considers politically undesirable.

Rais said Malaysia's filter would not affect bloggers but they would have to answer in court if they flout the laws.

The Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said the proposal went against a government initiative called the "Multimedia Super Corridor" (MSC), which provides tax breaks for foreign technology firms and promises no Internet censorship.

The MSC has attracted investors such as Microsoft Corp and Cisco Systems.

"Any moves to institutionalize filtering will be seen as strengthening the executive's powers in controlling content online," said the CIJ's executive director, Gaythry Venkiteswaran, in a statement.

The MSC attract investments worth 1.6 billion ringgit ($458 million) yearly.

(Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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