Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Website Bans: Why it won't work.

Hi everyone! It's been awhile since I have written in this blog. It is turning out to be an untypical year end - no winding down in sight. Quite the opposite in fact, the rate of new work has been ramped up and no one appears to be in a holiday mood yet, at least not from the pile I am staring at on my table.

The Borneo Bulletin opinion page carried an interesting op piece titled "Block dirty porn not useful social network" by AH of BSB. This opinion was probably prompted by the news circulated in the rumour mill about an impending Facebook ban in Brunei Darussalam which prompted AiTi, the info-communication technology regulators to clarify its "no comment" stance made earlier. The irony in this Facebook ban episode is that the E-Government National Center announces the very next day that it was holding a contest on its Facebook page for citizens and permanent residents to name the Brunei National Portal. 

The op piece writer lamented any notion of banning social networking sites due to their usefulness as a cost-effective platform for advertising his homegrown photography business. His plea instead, was to ban the dirty site  and let the useful ones live - a notion which appeals to every policy maker, parent or business user of the Internet, but one which is doomed from the outset. It also demonstrates the lack on understanding of how the Internet works.

Blocking websites especially ones which generate large volumes of traffic online is a near impossible task. Just ask those trying to deny access to Wikileaks. The reason for this can partly be explained by the number alternatives available to access any kind of material on the Internet. These include access via the web, file-sharing networks, news groups, discussion boards and the like. This BBC article speaks for itself. While acknowledging that "dirty" websites pose legitimate concerns, technologically, effective blocking is "not possible". I guess the surefire way to block those sites is to disconnect from the Internet altogether, but that would mean no social networking site and no email either.

What I learnt from this event is really how important the Internet is to our daily lives today. More importantly is the freedom of expression that we enjoy. While it is not to the extent that is experienced in liberalist societies, it is nevertheless there for the average netizen in Brunei. The fear, even as unsubstantiated as the one  that was circulated, was enough to stir responses and concerns. Perhaps we should learn not to take things for granted now should we?

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