Singapore's Internet Regulations Face Resistance


On June 1, Singapore introduced new internet regulations. Now some of the biggest web-based corporations are pushing back.

The reformed rules affect not just licensing and fees, but also allow the government of Singapore to decide what kind of information is acceptable to be on the internet. Reuters explains the new restrictions: 

[…] websites that regularly report on Singapore would have to be licensed and listed 10 news sites that would be affected, based on criteria such as having 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore each month.

Websites affected by the new licensing regime would have to put up a S$50,000 ($39,300) performance bond as well as take down within 24 hours any story that authorities deemed objectionable.

Consequently, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and eBay, working together as the Asia Internet Coalition, are pushing back to persuade the Singaporean government to change its mind. These companies have major stakes in Singapore's economy, where billions of dollars are invested and over one hundred thousand workers of the city-state's population of 3 million work in the web industry.

The internet giants wrote an open letter to express their dismay at the potential harm the new regulations will cause. "The current vague and broad terms in the regulation and implementation will hamper innovation and deter industry growth," they state. Furthermore, they believe the regulations are "onerous, regressive and untenable in practice."

However, the city-state has rejected the accusations. According to the Wall Street Journal, Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, stated that the new regulations have "nothing to do with doing business in Singapore. It is about holding certain websites to a higher level of responsibility" and that they are "not a departure from the 'light-touch' regulatory approach that the government has adopted for the Internet."

The city-state's decision was an unexpected move. Singapore is a financial powerhouse and, according to the Heritage Foundation's 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, the 2nd freest nation in the world. Heritage explains that "the overall regulatory environment remains one of the world's most transparent and efficient. With no minimum capital required, launching a business takes only three days." 

Although corporations are focusing on the potential economic impact of the new regulations, they are not alone in resisting the measures. They have an ally in Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization. Wary of the potential censorship that could arise, a representative said the HRW hopes that the letter will "give Singapore serious pause about its approach," according to Reuters.