KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia is considering setting up an Internet filter, similar to China’s delayed “Green Dam” project, in a move the opposition said would stifle dissent and industry officials warned would hit investment.
News of the proposal emerged within days of police arresting nearly 600 opposition supporters at a weekend rally denouncing the government that has ruled for 51 years.
A vibrant Internet culture has contributed to political challenges facing the government, which tightly controls mainstream media and has used sedition laws and imprisonment without trial to prosecute a leading blogger.
“They (the government) are looking to tweak the technical and legal details of implementing this Internet filter, setting the stage for its implementation late this year or next year,” the source, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
No one from the government, which aims to double household broadband penetration to 50 percent by the end of next year, was available for comment.
“Submissions are to be handed in by July or August. About four groups have tendered for this project,” said the source who had direct knowledge of the tender.
China last month delayed the introduction of its Internet filter which authorities said sought to stamp out pornography. Opponents of censorship, industry groups and the U.S. government said the project was intrusive and unfair.
Malaysia’s plans drew criticism from the opposition which in 2008 achieved its best ever election results, depriving the government of its two-thirds parliamentary majority.
“We hope that what the Ministry of Information wants to do will not put Malaysia in a bad context; that we are a regime no different from the firewall of China,” said opposition MP Jeff Ooi, who also blogs.
New Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim, whose ministry issued the tender, also plans to secure direct control over the content and monitoring division of Malaysia’s Internet regulator, a second source said.
“The minister wants to focus more on enforcement in the coming year,” a second source said.
Rais himself said last month that he would introduce measures to “control the bad” on the Internet.
Malaysia, a country of 27 million people won investment from foreign high-tech companies like Microsoft Corp and Cisco Systems into its “Multimedia Super Corridor” in the 1990s with incentives and promises not to censor the Internet.
That investment, currently worth 1.6 billion ringgit ($458 million) a year, could be reviewed if restrictions are imposed, a U.S. Internet portal operating in Malaysia said.
“If you block foreign Internet websites, search engines and social media like Facebook, revenues are going to fall and people will start switching out,” said the company official who could not be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Malaysia has lost ground in recent years in the fight for foreign investment to neighbours like Thailand and new Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced measures to liberalise the economy to stimulate economic growth.
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