The Incredible Unlikeness of Being of The Sedition Act – A Critique on “Deregulating The Net.” Part 1

June 29, 2008

 

[This is the first interview conducted by the Free Internet Library Board. In this series, the FILB will present questions to Missy Dotty and Montburan concerning the proposal by the 15 bloggers and their friends to ‘deregulate the net.’

For a 360° overview of this ongoing debate please refer to this excellent compilation

 

Click Internet Deregulation

 

Missy Dotty is an expert in IT & International law. Montburan is an expert in cross border legal risk management and mitigation; both are lawyers.

 

Missy Dotty is the owner of the site ‘JUST STUFF,’ that’s currently commandeered by the Brotherhood.

Montburan used to head the notorious Siglap read club (one of the strongest critics of Darkness and the brotherhood movement), the largest readership in the Brotherhood Press – this is my first interview series.

At the end of it, there’s a message to all readers from the FILB which I manage along with 3 assistants.

Please take five minutes to read it and please consider supporting us.

I do hope you all enjoy this interview series and apologize, if it doesn’t come across as slick as what the BP used to roll out – Happy Reading!

Best Reg

Y2K]

 

 

Question by Y2K to Missy Dotty:

 

Cherian, the ‘media expert’ has been quoted as saying, ‘There is merit in civil society doing it on its own…There’s no need to depend on the Government to regulate social values.’ Proposal for Internet freedom in Spore  

How realistic do you consider his appraisal of the strengths and weakness of our government and the new role the 15 bloggers and their friends envisage for the internet?

 

A: [Missy Dotty] How realistic is it? Well that really depends on a few issues.

 

I am not certain what he means by “no need to depend..” If he is referring to decamping from the Sedition Act, then I believe that may create rather than solve the problem of hate speech and incitement in the net.

 

In my view a large chunk of whether Dr George’s position is viable requires us to look at whether what he is proposing to offer is an improvement over what the law of sedition act currently offers to both the accused and the aggrieved parties?

 

Before we begin a critique on what Dr George said I believe we would do ourselves a favor including myself to re-look at the elements which makes up the law of sedition.

 

Where did it come from? What’s the philosophy that governs it? What are it’s strengths and weaknesses?

 

The law as I keep telling Baby Darkness is really like one of those medieval museums housing weapons of antiquity; where each enabling act is very much like a rapier, epee or halberd.

 

Some weapons are crude others refine but what undergrids them is they are all without exception double edge i.e some laws just like some weapons are designed to solicit compliance i.e the whip, it’s enough to crack it to get everyone to fall in line, but they can also be used to demand compliance directly.

 

For example; In July 1998, the Singapore government enacted the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act (CMA). The CMA prohibits the unauthorized interception of computer communications. You can say this is the perceived ‘good’ law very much like a humane weapon like pepper spray or a tasser gun; as it protects the vast majority of computer users from indiscriminate disclosure of information.

 

However CMA can also stray into the ‘bad’ domain since there are certain provision that provides the police with additional powers of investigation, and makes in an offense to refuse to assist the police in an investigation. The CMA also grants law enforcement broad power to access data and encrypted material when conducting an investigation. This power of access requires the consent of the Public Prosecutor.

 

So what we see here is every law even the seemingly ‘good’ has a reserve to produce ‘bad’ – it’s really a double edged sword – what I am trying to say here is we should not be too hasty to take the law at just face value; whether its ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is really a contextual question that depends on the broader considerations of what confronts society; for example although many western countries vilified us for having the ISA.

 

Following the Sept 11 attacks even the Bush administration reauthorization the USA Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law, which incidentally conferred upon the law enforcement agencies certain elements which were even worse than our ISA.

My point is this; we need should never ascribe a tone of finality to what is and isn’t a good enabling act simply based on dogma and this applies to even the Sedition Act.

Now when we talk about the Sedition Act most people seem to only register the nasty and ‘bad’ things about it; that sort of first impression is perfectly understandable as sedition is really a crude instrument of terror that has historically been used to send a chill rippling through the crowd. 

However, that ‘first impression’ of the Sedition Act in my view has to be misleading and even inaccurate; we need to decamp from the blogger 15 position of associating sedition with state inspired heavy handedness per se.

I really don’t believe that’s a fair appraisal in the ‘good’ against ‘bad’ score card.

I don’t disagree much of the jurisprudence  which undergrids sedition certainly supports their (15 bloggers) position as sedition is really the worst in the rogue gallery of good, bad and ugly ; so again it’s perfectly understandable why most people view sedition as morally abhorrent and even ideologically repulsive very much like the ISA.

As sedition operates symbolically to silence and usually the beneficiary is the state, but here like the CMA, there is also a ‘good’ side, especially when it is directed to online hate speech and incitement which is usually considered as ‘time urgent’ sort of crimes i.e the gestation period of a flare up is often short; here sedition act allows the law enforcement agencies to be mobilized speedily to identify the offender; there’s no lag; secondly, it’s a very effective way of gathering evidence without too much fuss; so what one needs to understand the Sedition Act serves the operational criteria of law enforcement agencies.

Q: Y2K : You said the Sedition Act is directed towards hate speech which is a time urgent sort of crime – can you explain this “time urgent” criteria further for the benefit of our readers?

A: Missy Dotty:  Gladly. Some social challenges not necessarily hate speech and incitement, but even national emergencies do pose real challenges to the enforcement agencies and even lawyers and judges, let me give you an example of a “time urgent” scenario; in 2003, Singapore added SARS to the Quarantine Act, a law that had previously been so dormant that most lawyers including silly me didn’t even know it existed. This was because of the time urgent necessity to contact trace carriers and identify the nodes through thermal-imaging detection of body temperatures in public places. So what we have here is a conflict between the law and the right to privacy, freedom of movement etc. As containment, quarantine even forced examination featured on individuals suspected of having SARS.  The SARS episode highlighted the need for speed and accuracy and it vexed many lawyers for example what’s the implication on installing closed circuit camera’s to ensure suspected carriers remain at home and required them to appear before the camera at specific intervals? What right or authority do health officials have to spot check on the movements of suspected carriers? How can quarantine be effectively enforced without encroaching on false imprisonment? What right do health authorities have order phone operators to block any attempt to forward home phone calls to mobile phones to make sure that the individual does not leave the home? Do health officials have a right to use electronic wristbands if suspected individuals do not answer phone calls? What we see here is the clearest example of how ‘time urgent’ and ‘pressing’ scenarios place undue demands on the law requiring policy makers to often make compromises between form and function.

The question we really need to ask ourselves is whether hate speech and incitement can escalate to those levels of complexity that we as a nation were once confronted with in SARS crisis – I cannot and will not answer that question as I am not either a sociologist or a media expert, but as a someone who knows the operational side of the law, I believe it may not be very prudent to rule out the need for taking a zero tolerance stance and moving to bring those to account speedily in times of crisis; lawyers, judges and the mata-mata cannot be twiddling their fingers and wondering what to do, especially where sectarian and partisan feelings are stoked up? In my view, we need to prepare ourselves for the worst case scenario and in this regard the Sedition Act has no comparative equal, not in law at least. So with due respect to Dr George, I believe the role of the government is indispensable here.

To Be Con’t

[This Interview Series has been brought to you by the FILB – The Brotherhood Press 2008]

To Read The Second Part of this Interview Series Click Here!

The Incredible Unlikeness of Being of The Sedition Act – A Critique on “Deregulating The Net.” Part 2

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