With the on-going debacle about the Kangkung saga dying down, I thought it would be a good opportunity to write specifically about internet censorship and its implications to ordinary Malaysian citizens. As you may well know, many Malaysia Netizens reported of difficulty accessing one particular post of the BBC website that dealt with the Kangkung issues, causing many to cite that Telekom Malaysia was actually censoring the internet–but what does internet censorship actually entail for Malaysia?
Let’s first take a step back, and understand how and Internet Service Provider (ISP) like Telekom Malaysia, Maxis or Digi operate.
How The Internet works
The best analogy of an ISP is that their the postal service. They route messages from one part of the world to another, in much the same way as Pos Malaysia routes letters across the country. Now, if you send a letter from Klang to Taiping, the letter is always within Pos Malaysia’s hands. However, if you send a letter from Klang to California–then our local postal service will route the letter to the US Postal Service, before the letter eventually reaches its destination.
So using the Postal analogy, imagine you live in Malaysia and your mother lives in California–and your only way to communicate with your mother is via snail-mail. Also, your mother (being the loving women that she is) ALWAYS replies to every letter she gets–100% of the time.
So initially you write a couple letters to your mom, the first letter says, the weather in Malaysia is great–and she responds accordingly, the second letter tells your mother you just ate the most delicious assam laksa in Penang–and she responds again. Finally you send a letter to your mom, making fun of Najib and his Kangkung–to which you receive no response—strange!
So you send the same letter again, and once again–no response.
Was it a general fault or Internet Censorship
Then you think of a ingenious test, you’ll send two letters to your mom, one to tell you about your first day at work, and another to discuss the kangkung saga. To which your mom only responds and ask you about your day at work without referring to the Kangkung issue at all.
Finally you decide to spruce things up, instead of saying kangkung, you’ll refer to it as ‘Dads favorite vegetable from the longkang’, and finally your mom responds saying how hilarious she’s found the whole issue.
Now in keeping with the Postal analogy, you need to figure out what happened to the Kangkung letters, and you’re left with 3 possible explanations.
1. Coincidence. Yes, it’s possible that only the Kangkung letters were lost (these things happen), but quite unlikely. You’re unconvinced that this was mere coincidence.
2. A general failure of the Post Service: This is impossible, as a general failure at the Post office would not result in just specific letters to your mom getting lost, rather it should result in all letters to your mom getting lost.
3. Postal censorship: The only real logical explanation is that someone from the post-office was peeping into your letter to determine if you were talking about kangkung–and then censoring it accordingly. Not only is this illegal, but it is a gross invasion of privacy.
But that’s exactly how internet censorship on the internet works.
ISPs utilize a method called deep packet inspection, that looks into the contents of the data it’s routing and censors accordingly. That’s why the day the BBC was censored, other post on the website were accessible with the exception of that one specific post about kangkung–‘some’ Malaysian ISPs had to determine which page you were visiting, and take appropriate action (appropriate being a loosely used word here), and the only way they could take this action is if they looked at the detailed information of the digital envelopes that were travelling on its network bound for the BBC website.
Internet Censorship is a invasion of privacy
So if we don’t stand for someone at the Post Office opening each envelope to peer inside its contents–why do we stand idly by and allow an ISP to do the same with our internet traffic–which is nothing more than digital envelopes.
The bottom line then is that Internet Censorship for the most part–is nothing more than a gross invasion of privacy. For the only way the government or an ISP can censor you, is by looking into your digital envelopes to determine the content of your communications.
Now I wonder how Dr. M thinks about someone reading his private correspondence–and whether he’ll support that as much as he supports internet censorship.