Internet users in Malaysia were reporting issues trying to access a specific page on the BBC UK website that was a hilarious post making fun of our ‘beloved’ Prime Ministers Kangkung remarks. Apparently the issue became so bad, that users took to social media –only to find that they were not alone. In fact, so many Malaysians were complaining that they couldn’t access the post, that the official twitter handle of the BBC News tweeted to its followers asking them if they had issues.
Are you in #Malaysia? Can you access this BBC story about #kangkung? http://t.co/sDKN4fFWyV – let us know using #BBCtrending
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) January 16, 2014
Now, I for one, experienced no such disruption–but then again I use a VPN, and quite frankly, so should you!
However, there are a couple of things you need to know about internet censorship, and this debacle in particular.
1. This isn’t the first time issues such as this were reported. In the run-up to the 2013 General Elections, similar allegations were made, that TM and the MCMC were in cahoots to block popular websites and videos that painted the government in negative light.
2. If indeed this was censorship–it has a certain degree of sophistication attached to it. I won’t go into the details, but in order for an ISP to block a specific page of a website, rather than the entire website, they require something called Deep Packet Inspection. If you imagine the data flowing through the internet as flowing in little envelopes, what your ISP usually does is to look at the destination address of the envelope and pass it along without ever opening the envelope to look at the contents of the letter inside. This is how the internet usually works, and it’s the fastest way to do it. If instead your ISP wanted to block a particular page, then they’d need to open up the envelope to check which page of the website you were visiting, to decide whether or not to allow the envelope through. This requires specialize software and is usually harder to circumvent than the method TM employed to censor Malaysiatoday.net back in 2008.
3. Speaking of MalaysiaToday in 2008, the internet in Malaysia is routinely censored, and the blocking of RPK website shortly after the 2008 General Elections, was just the first time the Government mandated ISPs censor the internet through official channels.
4. Internet censorship slows down the internet. If you want to perform Deep Packet Inspection, this obviously means that the ISP will need to check the packets rather than forward them on ASAP, causing delays not just to the people surfing to the blocked pages, but EVERYONE on the ISPs network.
5. While there isn’t any concrete proof that Kangkung article was censored–it is also quite impossible to get any proof. Certain leaps of faith have to be made. In 2013, I came to the conclusion that not only was the government censoring the internet–but it was also employing sophisticated software to spy on its citizens, of course we can’t say that to 100% certainty, but I am still pretty damn certain.
6. TM have not denied the allegation that they’ve censored the internet–only stating that they’ve complied with all regulations set by internet regulators. A more comforting Press Statement from TM would be along the lines of ‘We don’t even have the tools to censor, so we couldn’t do it, even if we wanted to–and we don’t want to’. That would at least allay some of my concerns.
7. Point 7 of the Multimedia Bill of Guarantees explicitly state that Malaysia will not censor the internet–but the Bill of Guarantees is not a legally binding document, and the government can still break the promises outlined in it, at absolutely no legal consequence.
8. Tun Dr. M, who was Prime Minister when the Bill of Guarantees was drafted has routinely said it was a mistake, and that he’d like to see internet censorship in Malaysia–a statement I find both ludicrously stupid and utterly irresponsible. The internet is not some play toy for the government to take away from citizens when they misbehave.
9. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to avoid this sort of censorship, including free ways like TOR, and more effective (but not free) ways like using a VPN.
10. In the era of Government intervention into the Internet, netizens of Malaysia will need to be ever more vigilante against attacks on internet freedom, particularly from political spheres. Do NOT let anyone take away your right to an un-censored and free internet–EVER!
So if you believe the hype–as I do. Then you must accept, that the government is using more sophisticated techniques to censor the internet–is doing it far more blatantly and arrogantly than before, and is now willing to renege on promises made. All in all–not a good day for the Internet in Malaysia.
But look on the bright side–at least the price of Kangkung has reduced.
–As a final thought. The BBC should have bloody implemented SSL on their website, and this issue would have probably gone away. Similar to the GE13 censorship, using something as simple as https would have easily circumvented this issue.