Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

To Net or Not to Net: Singapore's Regulation of the Internet

Academic journal article Federal Communications Law Journal

To Net or Not to Net: Singapore's Regulation of the Internet

Article excerpt

Online technology is like any other: made by human hands, blessed with our best intentions, and tainted with our worst vices.(1)

Certain liberties in a developing nation sometimes have to be sacrificed for the sake of economic development and security and to prevent communist oppression.... I spent a whole life-time building this and as long as I am in charge nobody is going to knock it down.(2)


In the modern information age, technology is a double-edged sword. As new uses for the Internet rapidly emerge, it is clear that this particular technology is at the forefront of the information age, becoming almost necessary in order for individual nations to promote development and to remain competitive. But with this development comes the proliferation of human vices. For nations like Singapore and the People's Republic of China (China) that wish to control the exchange of ideas, particularly those of Western origin, the desire to advance technologically is tempered by the desire to maintain censorship powers.(3)

For example, in 1991, Singapore's National Computer Board directed a study of the advantages of nationwide information technology development. Coinciding with that study was an examination of Singapore's censorship laws by the Ministry of Information and the Arts.(4) A review of the two studies reaffirmed that modern technology, particularly the Internet, and censorship may not coexist in an entirely peaceful manner. The government's desire to become the Asian "information-technology hub"(5) comes into conflict with the oft-practiced control over the amount and type of information entering the nation.(6)

This Note examines whether Singapore can successfully maintain control over the Internet while at the same time using the technology to become and remain competitive in the global market. Case studies of individual nations' successes or failures at attempts to control the Internet may provide fairly reliable predictions of the success of other nations in the same endeavor.

Part II provides a brief explanation of the origins and nature of the Internet in order to demonstrate the difficulties involved in controlling Internet content. Part III discusses current regulation of the Internet in Singapore, explaining Singapore's procedural and substantive means of censorship. Part IV examines the inherent difficulties involved in Internet censorship and analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the Singapore system thus far.


A. History and Nature of the Internet

The Internet is an international system that knows no boundaries and has no centralized control over the content transmitted.(7) It began in the late 1960s when the U.S. Defense Department commissioned the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to create a computer network that could survive a nuclear attack.(8) ARPANET was created, a decentralized network that utilized a process known as "packet-switching."(9) In packet-switching, a message sent from one computer to another is divided into separate pieces of data that are called packets.(10) The packets each follow separate routes, using different networks until they reach their final destination, where a computer reassembles the original message.(11) The utilization of this technology ensures that if a portion of the network becomes inoperable due to a catastrophe such as nuclear attack, the other computers on the network will automatically reroute the packets so that the information will arrive at its destination.(12)

Soon after the U.S. Defense Department developed this system, other institutions became interested in the decentralized system of computer communication. Commercial and educational institutions began adding their own networks to the ARPANET.(13) By 1982, the term "Internet" described the former ARPANET along with the additional networks.(14) The growth of the Internet since its inception has been astounding. …

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