John Perry Barlow on Sun, 21 Jul 96 07:00 MDT

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Re: nettime: Singapore officials censor U.S. newgroup posting

Here is mail from a friend of mine on the scene in Singapore...

Subject: Re: Singapore censorship justified by US censorship
To: (John Gilmore)
Date: Sat, 20 Jul 1996 13:18:11 +0800 (SGT)
MIME-Version: 1.0
From: (Marvin Tay)

Earlier, John Gilmore was recalled saying:
> The US Congress is very squeamish about appearing to vote against the
> wishes of extremely religious people, or appearing to vote to allow
> sexual materials.

Being of asian background, this is level of extreme conservatism
is more apparent with not only our government but a majority
of our Singapore population.

> This situation partly exists because of a hypocracy in American
> society about sex.  Publicly, many people object to the existence of

In actual fact, this duality that you've observed in US politicians
is far more entrenched in the asian society. Whereas the squeamish
level when it comes to sex and pornography has very low tolerence in
Asia, we are still widely known in the tourist sex trade with sex meccas
in Thailand and much of Indo China. Also to reiterate one point
that Will Gibson mentioned in his Disneyland article, despite the
govt.'s blanket ban on all forms of pornography and erotica, much
of the flesh trade is still alive, available and governtment regulated.

IMHO, this duality occurs not just because of hypocricy but more
so because of the asian man's view and under-respect of his fellow
woman. It shows in the culture and it shows in the economy. The level
of sex discrimination still remains high in the upper echelon of
the asian society. This and the fact that those in power refuse to
admit it puts the issue of censorship and freedom of speech (in Singapore)
in a very sensitive and delicate balance.

> sex-repressed people.  This is true of the recent Communications
> Decency Act which attempted to censor the Internet; it has been
> invalidated by a court.  This decision was recently appealed to our
> Supreme Court, the final arbiter of our rights, which is almost
> certain to decide the same thing.

Unfortunately, Singapore does not have such priviledges. No matter
how enlightened our judiciary may one day become, it will still
unanimously vote against any ruling that intends to relax the
flow (if any) of pornography. They do so with the blessing of the
justifiable majority as well.  Hence our stand is not to focus the
issue on pornography on the Internet for no one will stand behind
that. The thing is, Singapore has in it's short span has already
developed a conservative majority who have been brought up with
a virutal parent standing over their shoulders hushing them
in everything they do. The level of self-censorship is very evident.
Hence, pornography although widely downloaded, will never find it's
way into a public_html/ sub-directory. Not in Singapore. Yes we are
sexually repressed, but in a good way :)

In any case, our main fight is with the govt. using pornography as
an excuse to curb our currently free-flow discussion on topics about
life, religion and politics. This, we find their stand completely
unacceptable and their logic, completely twisted.

Their main thrust is that although they do not wish to outright
curb it, they want to regulate it so that any time if they feel
that someone has violated one of their vaguely objectionable
guidelines, the webmaster will be hauled up and asked to provide
details of the poster failing which he will be liable to a fine
and possibly for prosecution. This is like having a sword hanging
over every webmaster, IRCop and sysadmin's head. It's just as
bad as just banning free expression outright. The final result
will be the same.

Update: We're gaining some momentum in our call for an open dialogue
(read petition) with the authorities. We've managed to get quite
a fair bit of (otherwise apathetic Singaporeans) local internetters
to chip in their comments and speak their views openly. I was even
surprised that they would put their real names and stick their
necks out for this worthy cause. It's a sign that times are a changin'.
The printed press including our govt' regulated national newspaper has
so far been fair towards our position. The authorities have expressed
interest in meeting up for a dialogue and we have managed to canvass
some support from certain enlightened high level govt. officials.
In short, though we lack any form of legal representation, we're
still taking on the authorities and will be using the information that you
have generously made known to us to combat this new regulation.
We may not win in the end, but at least we will go down fighting.

Thanks again for your help, support and inspiration. If not for EFF
and the organised internet move to go against the CDA, we may not have had
the guts to reach this far in our own fight. Good luck with your
battle and it's my sincere hope that we will all succeed in our

best regds,

Marvin Tay      Information Frontiers Pte Ltd    Internet:
Operations      89 Science Park Drive #04-09     Fax     :(65)-7736812
Centre          Singapore 118261                 Tel (O) :(65)-7710831

John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation

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