Malaysia is to cancel an Internet filter tender that drew comparisons with China’s “Green Dam” project and triggered an outcry from opposition politicians as well as criticism from industry bodies, a source told Reuters. No one from the industry regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, was immediately available for comment.
The body has said the tender was for a study of Internet usage so as to boost Malaysian content on the net and that reports of a filter were “sensationalised”.
A copy of the tender documents, seen by Reuters, appeared to contradict that statement.
The documents said the proposal was to: “Evaluate the readiness and feasibility of the implementation of the Internet filter at (the) Internet gateway level.”
It would study gateway filters in countries that had implemented such measures and “find out (their) suitability for the Malaysian environment”.
“The tender is going to be cancelled,” said the source, who had direct knowledge of the tender but declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The Information Ministry came up with the proposal for the filter in April, but the idea was apparently blocked by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the source added.
Malaysia wants to double broadband usage to 50 per cent of its 27 million population by the end of 2010.
That could bring not only pornography but also boost the presence of the country’s opposition which in 2008 inflicted the government’s biggest ever losses in elections and used the Internet to get its message across Malaysia’s tightly controlled mainstream media.
China backed down on its “Green Dam” software, which it said was aimed at halting the spread of pornography, under pressure from the US, human rights and industry groups.
News of the Malaysian Internet tender emerged after the government arrested almost 600 people in an anti-government protest earlier this month.
It raised concerns that the government would crack down on the Internet, a popular medium for voicing criticism of the National Front coalition that has ruled this Southeast Asian country for 51 years.
The firewalls, which the source said could have been introduced six to eight months after the study was completed at the end of this year, could have cost in the region of RM200 million to implement.
The issue of unfettered access to the Internet is important economically for Malaysia, which has attracted investment from technology companies such as Microsoft Corp with promises not to censor.
Its Multimedia Super Corridor, set up in 1996, attracts investments worth RM1.6 billion annually, according to industry data.
Najib has announced a series of economic liberalisation measures to attract foreign investment and diversify Asia’s third most trade dependent economy away from its reliance on electronics and commodities exports.
He said last week that filters were not effective.
Boosting banking, finance and the knowledge economy, all of which are helped by fast Internet connections, are key planks of Najib’s economic strategy. — Reuters