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Open letter to Tun Dr. M on internet censorship

Dear Tun,

First and foremost, let me start by telling you that I truly admire and respect your contribution to Malaysia. I remember shaking your hand when you attended my Convocation quite some many years ago. It was quite odd to see that while you were present, you didn’t give a speech, simply because you attended the function not as former Prime Minister of Malaysia, but rather as the spouse of the Chancellor–your wife Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah.

So  it saddens me deeply, that at another convocation–this time where you were giving a speech, you suggested that it is time to censor the internet to counter “distribution of pornography, questionable news and slanders”.

If I may be so bold Tun–censoring the internet is the single most destructive thing that can happen to modern day Malaysia, and something that must be opposed at every turn, even if it involves publicly correcting a senior leader such as yourself. As a citizen of Malaysia, I find it not just my right, but my duty to inform the Emperor when he has no clothes on.

The Technical reason

Very few nations have ever tried to censor the internet, of the few, most of them are countries with limited and poor infrastructure such as Syria and Myanmar. In the case of Syria, their version of internet censorship involves completely cutting off access for their citizens to the internet, by severing power to the one and only ISP of the country. Which means Syrians experience internet disruption every time their government deems the internet has gone out of control–Pakistan does the same thing on a much smaller level, by censoring all of youtube, just because one video on it was deemed insulting to Islam.

However, of all the nations that censor the internet, one towers over the rest, your friend and mine–China. No other single nation has had such a bold plan of limiting internet freedom than our good ol’ buddies of the Communist of Party, however, even with the near limitless resources that they have poured into their Great Firewall, there still exist cracks that citizens continue to exploit, highlighting the difficulty in achieving internet censorship. Even so, the Chinese started censoring the internet a long time ago, before websites like Facebook and Twitter took shape, and by blocking these websites in favor of local versions, they made it so that all Social Networks that operate in China–operate physically in China. Which means their servers reside in China, and their CEO’s have offices in Red country, it’s a lot easier to censor servers that you have legal jurisdiction over, and you often find that CEOs are a lot more co-operative with the Government of the country their residing in. This is not a possible scenario for Malaysia.

Yet, I digress. The main technical reason we can’t censor the internet is because it would slow it down. All traffic transversing the internet, travels through routers, the digital equivalent of mail-sorters at the post office, these routers handle a phenomenal amount of data every day, and the only way to do this reliably and quickly is to do it—simply! All data is forwarded to their destinations with no questions asked, and they’re sorted out in a first come, first serve basis, this ensures that the overall system is managed in a efficient way–the term most technologist use is Net Neutrality, and it’s the best way to address the huge performance challenges the internet poses.

Internet Censorship is in direct conflict to the principle of Net Neutrality, if the postmen at the post office needed to check every single envelope the postal system would fail, similarly to burden the internet traffic with censorship, which would entail checking every data packet for it’s destination and then making intelligent decisions around that–would slow down the internet, and  I don’t need to tell you Tun, but a slow internet is a baaad internet.

The Freedom of speech reason

Just like you Tun, I believe in Freedom of speech. After all you wrote the book on “Blogging to unblock”, and during the hey-days of chedet.com you yourself were critical of the then Prime Minister and a certain in-law who went by the name KJ. Allowing the government to censor for Porn or slander, will automatically allow the government to censor for political purposes, and we’ve seen this everywhere censorship has gone. Even our own government has proven this point, the very first time internet censorship was formally executed by our government, was to censor not a seditious website but rather a website that was critical of the government–MalaysiaToday.

You understand that if the government censor chedet.com, it’s not just censoring you, but rather censoring 26 Million Malaysians from reading the writings of Tun Dr. Mahathir. You also probably know, that the notion that censorship would protect us from the harm of communal violence is a bunch of hog-wash. The countries that have experience communal violence in the past 3-4 decades were countries like Rwanda, Serbia, Cambodia, even the recent examples of the Arab Spring–all exist in countries that don’t have freedom of speech, or freedom of the press. There is no empirical evidence of any sort that somehow curtailing freedom of speech would lead to communal violence, if anything–not having freedom of speech would increase the probability of violence, just look at the data.

The internet is already censored

However Tun, the most important point I wanted to make was this–The internet is already censored.

If you plug your computer to the internet–you get nothing. You browse to Google, and all you see is a colorful Doodle with a search bar, all the information available to you doesn’t flow to you unless you specifically request for it. So in essence, if you are offended by Nazis, don’t search for Nazis, and you probably won’t find them. The porn that you wish you block, will only flow to people who actually search for Porn.

The internet–unlike the newspapers or radio–isn’t broadcasted to a wide audience, it’s served on demand to the people that demand it. So in essence you’re filtering and censoring the internet on a daily basis, no one is flooded with information online, everything on the internet is customed made for you.

In all honesty then–the pornography, slader and even opinions online are all served to people who look for the content, not the other way around. The problem would be the latent demand for pornography and not pornography itself. Hence, any attempt to censor the internet, would be futile as it doesn’t address the root problem, but merely a symptom.

Conclusion

So Tun, I hope you may reconsider your opinion, as just like every other opinion you hold–it has a tremendous influence on our current and future government policy. To hold onto an antiquated and destructive opinion such as censoring the internet wouldn’t be beneficial to both yourself, or Malaysia.

Regards,
Keith

  • PC

    Agree with your article to a certain extend. Censorship will cause humans to stop thinking for themselves! Having said that, I believe you should still censor child pornography because they are simply too young to decide for themselves and will need protection!