Malaysian Government aims to crank up online censorship powers

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Malaysian Government aims to crank up their censorship powers

The Malaysian Government is the latest international regime to appear to be taking steps to strengthen their powers of online censorship.

The Islamic country, whose government already holds strong powers through its Penal Code and the Sedition Act, is currently plotting amendments to two existing pieces of legislation, the Official Secret Act (OSA) and the Communication & Multimedia Act (CMA) during its upcoming parliamentary sessions, according to a report from the US-based online rights organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

According to the EFF, the Malaysian Government has blocked at least ten websites in the past nine months, including prominent online news site The Malaysian Insider, which has since been forced to shut down. The reason for this action was that they reported on a corruption scandal involving Najib tun Razak, the Malaysian Prime Minister.

He is accused of being involved in various dealings relating to more than $700 million dollars of public funds. The attack on The Malaysian Insider has been widely condemned by the international community as an act of press censorship, and the US Government has even gone so far as to release a press statement condemning the action.

However the Malaysian Government has not relented, and has continued to attack online freedom of speech, with investigations into activity such as the tweets of local activist Fahmi Reza, who drew a picture of the Prime Minister wearing clown makeup.

Now it seems, they are taking more steps down the road of state internet control.

Their Communication & Multimedia Act (CMA) is already both broad and vague in scope, allowing criminal steps to be taken against any “comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.”

Now amendments would make ISPs in Malaysia liable for the content being posted by their users, regardless of whether it can be proved that they were either complicit in their activity, or indeed even had knowledge of it. ISP fines would increase twenty-fold, while there would also be new web tracking requirements for them to follow, although it is not yet clear how detailed these would be. The move is clearly intended to compel the ISPs themselves to censor such content, rather than the Government have to do it for them.

For individual users, fines for such activity would double while potential prison sentences will triple. The Government will also have the power to remove any offending material which generates a complaint, and if any unwarranted complaints can be proven, the penalty for such an offence will be a mere $50.

Lastly and perhaps most ominously of all, the new amendments will make all foreign websites subject to local laws, and needless to say these are already highly restrictive. The example given by the EFF is that the Ben Still film Zoolander, which is rated as a 12 in the UK, and a PG13 in the USA, is banned completely in Malaysia.

The changes would mean the Government could legally block any number of foreign websites and effectively puts the legislation in place to allow wholescale internet censorship behind a Government firewall.

So what steps can Malaysians take to protect their online rights and ensure they retain access to as much of the internet and as many streaming services, films, and TV series as they would care to watch?

Well the most popular step would be to sign up for a VPN. By using a VPN, they can divert their internet activity via a server in a country where people have free reign to visit whatever internet site they may choose, such as the USA, UK, or Germany.

By using a VPN such as ExpressVPN, Malaysian citizens will be able to circumvent any restrictions their government do choose to put in place quickly and easily. It is a method already commonly used in countries such as China, where there are already severe restriction on what sites people can visit.

Sadly it seems as if the Malaysian government, which has been acting in an increasingly autocratic manner in recent years, appears set to go down the same censorship road, and if you are an internet user in Malaysia who values your online freedom, you would be well advised to act now and get your VPN in place before the new Government laws are approved in the coming weeks and months.

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