Monthly Archives: October 2007

Whose Internet is it?

This bill , is aimed at ensuring that there is freedom online. The bill, very briefly according to CNet, states that

“U.S. firms would face a host of new restrictions and obligations under the bill. For instance, they wouldn’t be allowed to store any e-mails or other electronic communications containing “personally identifiable information” about their users on servers in any of the designated countries. And they’d be obligated to give the State Department a detailed breakdown of how their products’ search results have been filtered and all URLs that have been removed or blocked at the request of foreign governments known to be restrictive.

If approached by local authorities with requests for users’ personal information, American companies wouldn’t be allowed to turn it over except for “legitimate law enforcement purposes,” as determined by the U.S. Department of Justice. That provision, which enjoys support from human rights groups like Reporters Without Borders, appears to be a response to allegations that Yahoo divulged information to Chinese authorities about pro-democratic online writings by a couple of its citizens, leading to their convictions and imprisonment.

Failure to comply with any of those rules could result in fines of up to $2 million.”
The Global Online Freedom Act was first mooted in 2006 and passed by the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs but it never made it to for a full vote by the House. This time. there seems to be more support following revelations that Yahoo handed over personal information of online Chinese dissidents to China’s repressive government

All this is fine and good. But what is scary is the fallacy that the Internet does not belong to anyone. Already, we see governments trying to manipulate the Internet through various means, legislation and filters. This bill seems to be aimed at dismantling such efforts to ensure that individuals have a free run of the net.

Yet this bill serves exactly the same functions as other Governments are trying to do. Freedom or not, it is clear that the US government is seeking to control the Net, in its own way. It just so happens that the US government’s ideals are in line with the Internet’s or so it seems. Said the panel’s chairman Republican Tom Lantos, the law is necessary because “the Internet should be a tool for good and one that helps to promote American values.”

Rebecca Mackinnon writes that the US government isn’t entirely altruistic either. Bush has been checking out phone conversations between individuals for the past err 6 years since 9/11.

It also shows the extent of US influence over the Internet. Granted, it started out as an American project but surely, it is bigger than one country alone. Yet, we often forget that the Internet is dominated, I say dominated to signify importance, not actual domination, by US firms. MSN, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube. And of course how an Internet domain is named is also under purview of a US agency, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

We are what we consume. The “right values” espoused by Mr Lantos is only right in the eyes of the controller.

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Illusion or trick of mind

I love optical illusions. I can spend days just looking at them because they fascinate me. Our worldview, as it were, is constrained by our senses. What is physical and what is not. Descartes obviously had something to say about that. Yet, I am a firm believer of the tangible.

But once in a while, science and physical senses cannot seem to prove what is not there. If it does, it seems out of whack with our senses.

Take for example this

The dragon is merely a paper foldup. Yet, it seems to follow you whereever you look at it. Freaky but the explanation, according to this guy, is that we misperceive the dragon’s shape. Check his post here

Anyway, if we cannot trust our senses, what can we trust?

What is the question?

To repeal or not to repeal. That is not the question. Rather it is the debate over the question of whether gay sex should be decriminalised that seems most intriguing.

First, there was the Repeal 377a website that started to campaign for the repeal against section 377A of the Penal Code. Under that section, it is an offense for a man to have sex with another man. In the website, there were resources posted for people to read. It also posted arguments why the law should be repealed when amendements to the Penal code are finalised when Parliament sits on Monday 22 Oct. There is also an online petition put up on the website calling for the Prime Minister to repeal the law. At time of this posting, there were about 6300 signatures to the petition.
More recently, a video was put up by celebrities, mostly theatre practitioners, on the site. Hosted on YouTube, the rap video was put together to appeal to people to join the campaign and sign the petition.

ust yesterday, a website was launched apparently to counter the Repeal website. It is almost a mirror of the former. It calls for the “silent majority” to speak up and make their voices heard on this issue of the 377a law. To date, at about 530 pm, almost 3400+ signatures have been collected.

Whether or not the law should be repealed is not of interest to me, (although I am 90% sure it will NOT repealed, regardless of whether Keep377a.com was set up or not). Rather it is the very healthy, very sharp debate that has resulted because of the issue being aired in cyberspace. Undoubtedly, letters have been written to Straits Times forum page from both camps. But knowing the conservative nature of ST, most of the anti-gay law letters will be published while pro-repeal folks would have had limited exposure.
But in this age of the New Media, who needs newspapers or editors?

What has since resulted is an exchange of views on several levels. As far as I can tell, these are the arguments that have been most frequently discussed

1) Why have a law when it is not enforced?
2) Homosexuality is unnatural, therefore evil
3) Repealing 377a is about upholding equality and individual freedoms
4) Keeping 377a is about upholding family values
5) Christianity = bigotry
6) Majority versus minority
7) Should a law be a reflection of a society’s values? Who decides what these are?

In the past, would have these issues been aired? I doubt it. It may have been whispered about, talked about at coffeshops or at watercooler breaks but elevated to a national level?

Of course, the debate was fuelled by a vocal and enthusiastic Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, (whom I suspect PAP regrets appointing now heh) who is going to submit a Parliamentary petition to include repealing section 377a under the Penal Code amendments.

The traditional media went to town with his story, simply because it was the first time anyone had the guts and gumption to do something so audacious; use the Parliamentary system to enact change! Imagine that.

In the process of doing so, the traditional media took on the role of the multiplier and let uninterested parties know of the going-ons of the virutal world.
In fact, I think that is the crucial link in this whole chain of events. Many people continue to write off the traditional media, saying that it is going downhill and will not be able to sustain itself in the Internet age. Yet, its influence, especially in Singapore, is still tremendous.
The reason? Mass media broadcasts. Everyone who buys the newspaper reads the same thing. On the Internet, people narrowcast. People generally go to the sites they want to go to, read the blogs that talk about the issues that interest them. Once in a while, they stumble upon a site which provides an alternative viewpoint. But rarely do they actively seek out a site which says something that is contrary to their views. Unless you are a neutral, like me, who has an interest in the debate itself and not the noise itself.

But noise can only be good. With noise, at least people learn and make their choices. No noise? There is nothing.