Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 While Japan, South Korea and Singapore all have Internet penetration rates of over 65% (International Telecommunication Union, 2008), each government prescribes different practices towards provisioning Internet use for their citizens.

Comment Icon0 With 73.8% of Japanese now online (International Telecommunication Union, 2008), Japan has one of the most vibrant Internet cultures, thanks to their relatively liberal media environment compared to the rest of the world. Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution (1947) guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits formal censorship, as read in paragraph 2 of the article where “no censorship shall be maintained”. Where any form of censorship could be practised, it would typically be enforced through Article 175 of the Penal Code of Japan (Natsui, 2003). Amended several times since its implementation in 1907, Article 175 stipulates that “any person who distributes, sells or publicly displays an obscene writing, picture or other material shall be punished with penal servitude for not more than two years or be fined not more than two million and a half yen or minor fine. The same shall apply to any person who possesses the same with the intention of selling it”. Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code, also known as the obscenity law, has represented the only official restriction on freedom of expression across any publication, including the Internet. As ambiguous as the term obscenity, or waisetsu in Japanese, this particular law has been interpreted in several ways, though it typically refers to how all pornography must be at least partly censored. Historically, there have been very few arrests based on this law (Natsui, 2003). Concerned over libellous flaming and the ease with which children can access pornography online, Japan’s communications ministry is suggesting that the government should start regulating the Internet by 2010 (Fitzpatrick, 2008).

Comment Icon0 With an estimated population of over 49 million citizens, South Korea has almost 35 million people online, making it the second most connected state in Asia with 70.7% Internet penetration (International Telecommunication Union, 2008). One major feature of Internet access in South Korea is the advanced state of their national network infrastructure. After the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, South Korea had invested heavily in its broadband infrastructure, providing its citizens with a national network that carries data at speeds of up to 50 megabits per second (Kalning, 2007). Majority of South Koreans use the Internet at home, and maintain connectivity by accessing the network more than once a day (Korea Internet & Security Agency, 2009). Thanks to South Korea’s ultra high-speed broadband network, a popular national pastime involves online gaming, with as much as 35% of the population playing. Although South Korea enjoys broadband Internet penetration, citizens do not have access to an unfiltered Internet.

Comment Icon0 Through a barrage of substantial legal and technical regulations over online expression, South Korea filters a large amount of content that supports or praises North Korea, South Korea’s historical political adversary, as well as a small number of sites devoted to social and economic vices such as pornography, gambling and software piracy. As a primary regulation governing Internet speech, the state’s National Security Law (NSL) was designed to prevent communist ideology and pro-North Korea sentiment from penetrating South Korean society (Faiola, 2004). Pro-North Korea activists are criminalized as “anti-state” activities under the NSL (Oh & Kim, 2001). Besides the NSL, there is Article 53 of the Telecommunications Business Act, which makes it illegal to transmit over telecommunication lines any content that compromises public safety, order or morals. The Election Law makes it illegal for Internet communication that defames politicians during their election campaigns, and it also empowers authorities to review ISP records containing information about suspected violators. Overseeing these laws is the Korean Internet Safety Commission (KISCOM), an independent body established in 1995, responsible for formulating a code of communications ethics. KISCOM reinforces state policy aimed at “eradicating subversive communications and promoting active and healthy information”, and is empowered to define “harmful” content and recommend which websites should be. In addition, KISCOM produces and manages a voluntary “Internet Content Rating Service” permitting websites to self-evaluate their level of appropriateness for minors, and provides to parents and schools filtering software and related technologies compatible with the rating service (2600 News, 2002). The Youth Protection Act of 1997 makes ISPs officially responsible as “protectors of juveniles” for preventing access to inappropriate content on their networks (Bae, 2004). Parallel to this effort is the “Internet Content Filtering Ordinance” which reportedly required ISPs to block as many as 120,000 websites on a state-compiled list (Electronic Frontiers Australia, 2002). Interestingly, South Korea is home to a globally recognized peer-produced online publication called OhMyNews.com. As a popular Seoul-based online newspaper that publishes articles written by ordinary citizens, this online citizens’ medium has played an important role in Korean politics and Internet culture, including how it strongly influenced the 2002 election of Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (Schroeder, 2004).

Comment Icon0 With an estimated population of 4.9 million, 2.7 million Singaporeans were found to have Internet access, making Internet penetration for Singapore at a relative high of 58.6% (International Telecommunication Union, 2008). Though technically viable, the Singapore government engages in minimal Internet filtering, preferring to block only a small number of pornographic websites as a symbol of disapproval. Instead, the state employs a combination of licensing controls and legal pressure to regulate Internet access, with the aim of curbing online commentary and content relating to political, religious and ethnic issues. The appointed Media Development Authority (MDA) established an Internet Policy Framework with the goal “to promote and facilitate the growth of the Internet while at the same time safeguarding social values and racial and religious harmony” (Media Development Authority, 2009).

Comment Icon0 This Internet Policy Framework includes: 1) Internet Regulatory Framework; 2) Registration of Internet Class Licensees; and 3) Family Access Network. The Internet Regulatory Framework consists of the “light-touch” regulatory framework, where “licensees found to be in breach of regulations will be given a chance to rectify the breach before the Authority takes action” (Media Development Authority, 2009). Self-regulation in the online industry is also encouraged by the government in order to instill self-reliance and cultural growth. Finally, online safety awareness is promoted though public education. MDA offers programs in cyber-wellness where prevention of at-risk online behavior is taught. Regarding registration of Internet Class Licensees, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Political Parties, entities related to political or religious issues online as well as Internet Content Providers in the business of charging for content, all need to be registered. Finally, the Family Access Network is an optional service ISPs have to provide which offers parents the option of a hassle-free filtered Internet access for their children.

Comment Icon0 Despite the light-touch approach to Internet regulation, the Singapore government still largely consists of one ruling party, namely the People’s Action Party (PAP). Through the use of restrictive laws, political ties to the judiciary and ownership of the media, the PAP has been able to suppress any dissent against it. Suspected offenders have been detained without judicial review, through the provisions of the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Criminal Law Act (CLA), and the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA), which prohibit the production and possession of “subversive” materials. Offenders are often faced with civil liabilities and expensive damages through defamation suits (U.S. Department of State, 2007). Due to these legal and economic measures, there is a pervasive climate of self-censorship regarding political commentary on the Internet. By disabling basic freedom of expression under the guise of protecting public security, the effect inescapably perpetuates the reign of the People’s Action Party within the Singapore government.

Chapter 2.4.3 – Countries with the Highest Internet Penetration

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