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Singapore's quandry: Use the Internet, but only use it 'responsibly'

cafe October 9, 1996
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT)

SINGAPORE (CNN) -- A new entry into Singapore's nightlife scene is in keeping with the government's scheme to get citizens hooked on today's stimulant of choice: the Internet.

Right now, only four percent of Singapore's 3 million citizens are online. Authorities say they hope to hook each and every citizen to the Internet. Cybercafes give the curious a chance to try it out.

surfing

At the Cybercafe, people can relax, grab something to eat, listen to jazz and hook up to the Internet. In the past year, many places like the Cybercafe have opened their doors in Singapore, but this restaurant, many say, is the most popular spot.

It's located right on Singapore's Boat Quay with a row of other popular restaurants and clubs, right in the middle of Singapore's financial district.

Although Singapore authorities say they want to harness the power of the Internet, they also want to control it. Home to three major ethnic groups -- Chinese, Malay and Indian -- Singapore's public policy is still colored by memories of race riots in the 1960s.

blacklist

So, in addition to strict anti-pornography rules and the death penalty for drug dealers, it has put a number of Internet sites on a government blacklist. All three of Singapore's Internet service providers are required to deny their users access to sites on that blacklist.

The government won't say what sites are on the blacklist, or even how many. It only says it is targeting content which, according to authorities, may undermine the public morals, political stability and religious harmony of the country.

"Those who want to use the Net in a responsible way, in a positive way, they have nothing to fear," said Goh Liang Kwang of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority. "However, we still have to guard against that irresponsible user who intends to use the 'net such that it may lead to social or religious discord or public disorder."

Kwang

Kwang says in a multiracial, multireligious society like Singapore, the government has to guard against public decay. While maintaining print and television standards has been relatively straightforward for the country, the Internet poses new problems. It is nearly impossible to regulate it.

"I think the occasional person looking to see someone in a bathing suit on the Net will not be terribly disappointed," said Cybercafe manager George Cardona. "I think we all know the Internet is very hard to regulate. If that is really your fetish, if that is really what you need, you are going to find ways to do it."

From Correspondent Maria Ressa
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