The following is a letter by Ng E Jay which was published by the Straits Times, May 14, 2008.
Internet should not be subject to the law over and above those that apply in real life
I AM one of the 13 bloggers who submitted proposals for Internet freedom to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. I would like to respond to Monday’s online letter, ‘Internet freedom: Rights come with responsibilities’ by Mr Mok Wing Tat in my personal capacity.
The proposals recognise that freedom comes with responsibility. The question is who should determine what is right and wrong on the Internet, and how society’s values should be enforced by the law. The proposals are concerned with the kinds of regulation that can allow us to harness the benefits of free speech while minimising the harm that free speech can cause.
The group believes that many of society’s legitimate concerns about the abuse of free speech can be addressed through community moderation. One possible approach is to organise a citizen-based Internet Content Consultative Committee (IC3) which would issue recommendations whenever controversies arise regarding Internet content, for example, offering its views when content providers are alleged to have behaved irresponsibly. The objective over time is to subject Internet content to public debate, replacing intervention by the state with the people’s own judgment.
I personally believe that as long as issues like race or religion are not involved, regulation of political content on the Internet is unjustified in principle and unenforceable in practice. The group, as a whole, believes that certain sections of the Parliamentary Elections Act regulating election advertising over the Internet during an election period should be abolished. Similarly, the section of the Films Act banning the manufacture and distribution of party political films should also be abolished.
Mr Mok is particularly concerned that free speech on the Internet often degenerates into insults and harassment. In real life, anyone who has been defamed or has suffered harassment can seek legal redress. I am of the opinion that laws that apply offline in the real world should apply equally online, but no further. The Internet should not be subject to regulation over and above those that apply in real life. Additionally, Internet users can protect themselves by maintaining anonymity. Internet users like me who have voluntarily chosen to reveal their identities online have to be responsible for it.