I used to head up the Internet SIG of the Singapore Computer Society back in the 1990s. When the then Singapore Broadcasting Authority (now known as the Media Development Authority) issued a directive that they will require all ISPs to filter access to websites, my SIG sprang into action and organized a workshop at which we invited the SBA rep and interested members of SCS as well as the public to discuss the issues.
I had posted the proceedings of the session on my personal website when at that time was hosted on Pacific Internet (home.pacific.net.sg/~harish). But today that is all gone and I am using this blog to host it for posterity:
Singapore Computer Society’s Internet Regulations Workshop
The ProceedingsCopyright 1996 Singapore Computer Society
Saturday August 17th 1996 0930-1200 NCB Auditorium
Ms Ling Pek Ling, Director (Policy and Planning), SBA
Mr Lim Kien Thye, Legal Adviser, Singapore Computer Society
Mr Andrew Sansom, Vice President, SCS (moderator)
The workshop started with a welcome by the moderator who introduced the two panelists and the agenda of this workshop.
Ms Ling started off first by introducing the SBA regulations as was spelt out by the SBA press release and the subsequent gazette notification.
Mr Lim then went through the regulations in finer explaining the various clauses and their implications and interpretations.
Following the tea-break, Lim continued with some clarifications on issues raised during the break. Specifically, the issue in Section 13 of the Conditions of Class License was revisited. Mr Lim said, before the break, that geomancy et al as mentioned in that section are illegal on the net. A member of the audience had pointed out to him that in fact, Section 13 mentions the outlawing of this only for services defined in Paragraph 3(a) to (e), eg audiotext and videotext services of the Notification and this excludes the Internet. Lim was of the opinion that it is a little difficult to totally delineate the Internet from this category. SBA clarified that while Sec 13 did not apply to Internet Service Providers and Internet Content Providers, they were subject to the requirement to comply with the laws of Singapore.
The much awaited question and answer session ensued thereafter.
[Ed Note: Most of the answers were from the SBA. Where it is not, the speaker is identified.]
Q1: If a web site is maintained OUTSIDE Singapore but the contents are political in nature with the editors residing in Singapore, must that site register?
Q2: Even if the site is NOT of a political party?
A2: Yes, if it falls in the list of other categories which need to register with SBA. [These categories are spelt out in the class licence gazette, a copy of which is available on SBA's web-page at www.gov.sg/sba.]
Q3: If a Singaporean machine discusses, say, Indonesian politics, it is OK not to register?
A3: The registration requirement for political groups applies only to political parties registered in Singapore and groups discussing political issues relating to Singapore.
Q4: But if it discusses Singapore politics it must be registered?
Q5: Do you think the Wall Street Journal will care to register if you were to ask them to because some of their subscribers are resident in Singapore?
A5: We have a good working relationship with the WSJ and do not see that as being a problem.
Comment: I think the WSJ would not bother.
Q6: Can you please tell me why you included geomancy, astrology, palmistry and fortune-telling in the list of banned activities?
A6a: [Lim KT] Well technically, fortune-telling, palmistry and geomancy are on our statutes as “banned” activities.
A6b: But, KT, you and I (Harish Pillay) were in the police force doing NS many years ago, and you know very well that there are many things that are illegal (for example the burning of joss paper in public), but we close an eye and let it pass. We have been doing so with these things anyway, then why bring it back?
A6c: Well, the SBA regulations do not preempt other laws of Singapore and the inclusion here is merely to re-iterate the laws.
Q7: So, can I take it that we will not see anymore palmistry, astrology, geomancy and fortune-telling books in Times and MPH?
A7: Well those are not illegal. The SBA regulations focus on broadcast media, which are more pervasive – we want to make sure that people are not cheated by confidence tricksters under the pretext of telling fortunes etc.
Q8: Do you know that the SPH in it’s audiotext service, it is providing fengshui, astrology and horoscopes? How come, in spite of you listing audiotext services as one that must not promote these, you are allowing SPH to do so?
A8: We are in discussion with the SPH on what the acceptable limits are.
[Clarification: SPH is allowed to carry horoscopes. It does not offer astrology services.]
[Ed's clarification - at last check, August 20th, SPH's 1-900 service provides fengshui (Chinese geomancy) services.]
Q9: Will you tell us the public what arrangements you have made with SPH to allow this?
A9:We have given some guidelines on what the acceptable limits are in the phrasing of Condition 13(c), namely “ensure that its service is not used to advertise, provide or otherwise promote-
(i) astrology, geomancy, palmistry; or
(ii) any other type of fortune-telling device
Content or service providers who need further clarification can check with SBA.
[SBA has a feedback channel on its web-page at www.gov.sg/sba.]
Q10: You say that I cannot put up banned audio/video on web pages. Does that mean that my .wav files are illegal now? Is there a publically available list of banned movies/songs?
A10: Those come under the Undesirable Publications Act and you can get the information from the Ministry of Information and the Arts.
Q11: In your Internet Code of Practice, you mention fines. I have never known a Code of Practice that carried fines. How much is the fine?
A11: Sec 24 of the SBA Act provides for SBA to impose fines, suspend or cancel the licence of a provider in the event of a breach of licence conditions. The Code of Practice gives some guidelines on the types of content that should not be carried. As one of the class licence conditions (Condition 11) is that licensees should comply with the Code of Practice, breach of this Code would constitute a breach of licence conditions.
Q12: Who can I appeal to?
A12: You can appeal to SBA. SBA will refer grey cases to the National Internet Advisory Committee. You can appeal to the Minister if you are not satisfied with SBA’s decision.
Q13: When will the NIAC be formed/announced? You did announce the SBA regulations in a hurry, out on a Thursday and enforced on a Monday.
A13: Sooner than you think.
Q14: In the Code of Practice you say that there should not be anything that satirises or denigrates any race or religious group. So, will you now force the ISP to drop rec.humor.funny because it has racial jokes? Are Jewish, Irish, Chinese, Indian, Malay jokes illegal now?
A14a: We will go by what is acceptable to our community and focus attention on areas which upset the racial and religious harmony of our society.
A14b: [Lim KT] The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act 1990 provides for a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony which would advise on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony in Singapore.
Q15: Since we do not have any sizeable Singaporean Jewish community, will you say that Jewish jokes are OK and not others?
A15: Again you have to refer to the Religious Harmony Act.
Q16: You say that promiscuity and permissiveness must not be promoted and yet allow Beverly Hills 123456 to be aired on local TV. If that is not promiscuity and permissiveness, then what is?
A16: It’s all a matter of degree. Even on TV, there is a family view hour of 9.30 pm. Shows aired before that hour have to comply with stricter standards.
Q17: If I run a site that has a bunch of people editing and maintaining the site with some of the editors physically outside Singapore, do I have to register that site because it could contain political discussions about Singapore?
A17: Yes, if it falls within the list of groups which need to register with SBA.
Q18: What kind of liability do the editors have?
A18: They are responsible for the contents as they have editorial privilege.
Q19: What about mirror sites mirrored in Singapore? And it contains political discussions but I do not have editorial rights?
A19: If the SBA thinks that the material in the mirror is not acceptable, it has to be removed.
Q20: Proxy servers for leased line customers. I have clients who have leased lines and use the net link to do Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and other business transactions. Now they want to go away from Singapore because of your rules. They have confidential information that cannot be put on a proxy server.
A20: The requirement for the use of proxy servers does not apply to customers who use it only for company use. Organizations such as cybercafes, libraries, community centers have to go the proxy servers as they are providing Internet to the public.
Q21: Let me understand this. I look after the schools. Schools have leased lines to the Net and so, if leased lines users are exempt, schools are exempt also?
A21: The exclusion is not for all leased line users per se. It is for corporate (private) communications. The primary audience of the schools are the students, which count as members of the public, and so they have to use the proxy.
Q22: But what about the teachers who have machines on their desks and no student will use it?
A22: The aim is to for the links to be used by the students and so the proxy must be used, even if student access is supervised by teachers.
Q23: When will you announce this non-use of the proxy server?
Q24: How soon? Some of the ISPs are sending out information to leased line customers informing them of this rule.
A24: Sooner than you think.
Q25: There is one group that is exempt from the regulations – those who provide access incidental to their business. Can you elaborate?
A25: If a hairdresser provides net access while cutting the hair of the client, the net access in that business is incidental and not primary. This is unlike the case of a cybercafe, where it would be difficult for the operator to claim that providing net access was not a primary part of its business.
Q26: Will you release the black list of web sites to the public?
A26: No, we want to keep it confidential and want to be conservative.
Q27: Why not? I can get a list of banned books, movies, tapes, magazines etc. How come you are so secretive about the black list?
Comment: The black list could become a hot list (laughter).
A27: The books and magazines that are banned are made known because people can buy then overseas and so they need to know what is not allowed. In the case of the Net, only the ISPs need to know as they are the ones making access available.
Q28: So, let’s consider this. I spend a weekend cruising the web. I come across a bunch of sites that are blocked off to me – I know this because of the message on the screen. I write them down. I then pass the information to others and collectively we build up a list and then I post it to my home page. Is that OK?
A28: No, you are in violation of these guidelines.
Q29: Why, where and how?
A29: You should not put the information out on the web.
Q30: So if I e-mail it to a friend outside Singapore and he posts it, will you block the information?
A30: The site is in violation.
Q31: When does an article or web page become “illegal”? When it is being created using an editor, or uploaded to server but not hyperlinked or when it is on the web?
A31: [Lim KT] The issue of when material becomes content is a grey one which lawyers are still grappling with.
Q32: I am a software developer. I depend on my customers to use my software to develop content on the Internet. Currently you are specifically mentioning WWW services. Will you in the future say that a particular service is not legal?
A32: As a software developer, you should not feel constrained as the primary responsibility lies with the content developers who use your software. We encourage software development in Singapore and want to emphasise the light touch nature of our licence scheme. We would also like to hear from you if you think the regulations are hindering your business operations. SBA is keen to have close consultation with the industry.
Q33: Further to that I asked if in future such “consultations” with the “Industry”, should they be minuted, be placed in the SBA web site for public access?
A33: We will look into the feasibility of this.
Q34: The Internet Regulations specifically define Internet Content Provider to be:
- any individual who provides any programme, for business, political or religious purposes, on the World Wide Web through the Internet; or
- any corporation or group of individuals (including any association, business, club, company, society, organisation or partnership, whether registrable or incorporated under the laws of Singapore or not) who provides any programme on the World Wide Web through the Internet, and includes any Web publisher and any Web server administrator.
This definition excludes other Internet services such as the Gopher and the IRC services. Does this mean that the above definition excludes the Gopher and the IRC services? What about other emerging Internet technologies?
A34: We will continue to refine the Internet Regulations to incorporate emerging Internet technologies when these have mass public impact.
Q35: What about Intranets?
A35: Intranets are NOT under the jurisdiction of the SBA.
Q36: What about an Intranet of say a club – say the Turf Club. And they want to use their computer network to place bets and do gambling?
A36: As long as they have the license to do so by other relevant government authorities, this should not be a problem.
Q37: What would you define as obscene? I have to manage a design school where there are creative people who would ask me why a particular site is blocked when in their opinion it is not obscene.
A37: SBA will refer grey areas to the National Internet Advisory Committee.
Q38: If my site has a link to another who may have links to objectionable sites, am I liable?
A38: You will not be, provided you did put the link in good faith and did not know of the subsequent links.
Q39: You say that financial information presented without commentary is exempted from the SBA regulations. What does that mean?
A39: The exemption covers raw information for example, the index closed high at 1234. To quote the Gazette, the exemption applies to “financial information services where the financial information is transmitted without commentary and without alteration or addition to its form.”
Q40: You say that the Internet Advisory Committee will be formed soon. What types of people will it have? Users or people from the govt?
A40: It will constitute a broad cross-section of people to represent the users of the Internet and will include relative light users as well as members of the industry.
Q41: When the committee decides on something and the decision is not what the SBA or the Minister hoped for, the SBA and the Minister is NOT bound to accept the decision, right? After all it is only an advisory committee.
A41: Yes. But, we will take into consideration all the viewpoints carefully before deciding.
Q42: We all know of this abomination called “Mr. Kiasu”. Now, I belong to a running group which enjoys lewd and naughty jokes and one us wanted to create an e-mailing list to share it with the rest. He approached one of the ISPs who, erring on the side of kiasuism, wanted him to sign a document that effectively disallowed anything like what we wanted. Don’t you think your rules will breed more self-censors – mind you, this was before your rules came about? I now run the mailing list out of my laptop.
A42:No, as long as they are following the guidelines.
Updated August 20th 1996
This page was compiled, edited and posted by Harish Pillay, Internet SIG Chair with the help of four other participants from the audience and the SBA panelist, Ms Ling.
You may quote from this page for commentary purposes, newsgroup postings and so on, but we ask you to please include the URL – http://www.scs.org.sg/sbaworkshop.html – in your quotes.