The city-state is one of the most wired countries in Asia, but the government severely restricts Internet use by government opponents. The authorities are also trying to impose "responsible" use of the Internet.
The Internet has been a resounding success in Singapore ever since the country went online in 1995 and two-thirds of all households have a computer. More than two million people are online, up from 800,000 in 1999. The number of websites in the country's .sg domain has risen from 900 in 1996 to more than 17,000 today. But the government does not like being criticised and, even though it denies doing so, quietly and effectively censors material. The Internet was placed in the late 1990s under the supervision of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA), which controls access to sites and requires them to obey rules for what it calls "responsible" use of the Internet. It asks ISPs to bar access to sites containing material that "undermines public security, national defence, racial and religious harmony and public morality" and is thought to have blocked more than 100 sites deemed to be pornographic. Sites that do not comply with the SBA rules do not get an operating licence. They must also install filters on their servers. Political and religious websites must register with the government's Media Development Authority, which also requires ISPs to block access to about 100 sites considered undesirable. Some Internet operators encourage customers to install filters, especially CyberPatrol and Smart Filter, on their computers, mainly to block pornographic sites. The law was amended before parliamentary elections in 2001 to curb the activities of political websites. Government opponents, journalists and other critics are hampered by the internal security law, which allows the arrest of anyone undermining the very general notion of "state security," and by the heavy fines imposed in libel cases. In July 2002, a government opponent, Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, who has posted articles online, fled to Australia after police searched his house and threatened to arrest him. His computer was seized and he was accused of libelling the daughter-in-law of a government minister. He learned recently that if he returned to Singapore he would face charges of sedition and threatening racial harmony and could be jailed for two years. The government set up a "Cyber Wellness Task Force" in March 2003 to teach Singaporeans how to behave online. It aims to prevent the country's millions of users from sending "useless" e-mails and spam and not to look at pornographic sites or use false names in discussion forums. Its head, Michael Yap, is planning information campaigns, new websites and training workshops. Links: Southeast Asia's freedom of expression organisation, Think Centre Site of James Gomez, an expert on freedom of expression in Singapore The Media Development Authority, the government's Internet regulatory body