Government Orders ISPs to Censor Lawyers for Liberty Website

Lawyers for Liberty has officially been blocked by the Singapore government. The block was ordered under local “falsehood” laws.

Every week, it seems that we see more and more mass Internet censorship. Whether it’s efforts to target “violent crime” in Australia or oversight free corporate sponsored efforts to target alleged piracy websites in Canada, ISP level censorship efforts are becoming increasingly brazen.

Now it seems that one country is simply dispensing with all pretext and targeting sites that they see as political threats. Lawyers for Liberty bills itself as “a human rights and law reform initiative that seeks to challenge the many unconstitutional, arbitrary and unreasonable decisions and acts perpetrated by the government, its agencies and other public authorities.”

Unfortunately, the efforts by the human rights organization has caught the attention of Singapore – obviously not in a good way. The government has ordered ISPs in the country to block access to the site under so-called “falsehood laws”. From ZDNet:

The Singapore government has ordered local access to a website to be blocked for failing to comply with a correction directive issued under the country’s online falsehoods law. Malaysia-based Lawyers for Liberty, which operates the site, has filed a motion against the Singapore government over the issue.

Singapore’s Minster for Home Affairs on Wednesday had instructed the correction directive to be issued under the country’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), citing a January 16 statement published by Lawyers for Liberty that it said contained “untrue, baseless, and preposterous allegations” about Singapore’s use of unlawful and brutal methods in carrying out judicial executions.

After the website failed to comply with the directive, which required it to carry a correction note alongside its original statement, Singapore’s Minister Communications and Information on Thursday ordered industry regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to issue the access blocking orders. These would require internet service providers (ISPs) here to disable local access to the website. Access would be restored if the website complied with the initial correction directive, the communications ministry said.

Correction notice orders also were issued to other individuals and platforms that shared the January 16 statement from Lawyers for Liberty. These included local activist Kirsten Han and media sites The Online Citizen and Yahoo Singapore, which had shared the content via their Facebook posts and articles.

The report goes on to say that Lawyers for Liberty responded to the order by refusing to comply with their demands and filing a motion in the Kuala Lumpur’s High Court against Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

Since then, it seems that Lawyers for Liberty have been experiencing what some call the Streisand effect. Traffic for their site, they say, has spiked since Singapore ordered the blocking of the website. This according to a statement issued by the organization:

On 23 January 2020, the Singapore government announced that it would block Lawyers for Liberty’s (LFL) website for failure to comply with a Correction Direction issued to LFL under the Protection From Online Falsehoods And Manipulation Act (POFMA). It was a drastic & unprecedented step by Singapore.

Since then, this website has experienced a great increase in traffic coming mainly from Singapore. This shows that banning websites or information is always counter-productive. The Singapore government should instead have responded with facts and rational arguments.

We will be posting much more information & articles related to human rights, freedom & democracy in this space, which will be of interest to both Malaysians and Singaporeans. Stay tuned.

The response follows a very familiar pattern when it comes to Internet censorship. Whenever there is efforts to block something, people are more motivated to circumvent such blockades. Earlier this month, we reported on a study that suggests Australian’s are increasingly getting better at circumventing censorship ever since the country decided to move all in on censoring everything they don’t like at the ISP level.

So, the response that Lawyers for Liberty isn’t exactly surprising. Instead, it only further compounds the collective wisdom on the subject that Internet censorship is a failed policy regardless of what content is being targeted and whoever it is carried out by.

As efforts continue to censor the Internet increases, this is likely the behaviour that we are going to see more of.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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