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Taiwan: Internet Policy Reforms Spark Fears of Censorship

“Don't touch my Internet!” Image by Baagic (CC-BY-SA)

This spring, the Taiwanese government has proposed multiple amendments to existing laws that could impact free expression online, sparking concern among Taiwanese netizens. While many are comparing the amendments to Chinese-style speech control, others have noted the influence of the United States on the legislation.

Copyright Act raises threat of censorship

One controversial bill introduced in mid-May proposed to amend the Copyright Act, allowing the government to more easily block overseas websites containing materials alleged to infringe copyright. Under the amended law, Taiwan's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) would review requests from content owners claiming that their content had been posted online without their permission. The IPO would then require Internet Services Providers (ISPs) to block websites with infringing content. The system would exclude judicial review of content owners’ requests.

Taiwanese netizens criticized the proposal, comparing it to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States. Following tremendous backlash from civil society, IPO revoked the plan in early June and promised to adjust the proposal. The new iteration of the proposal may require that ISPs receive a court order before blocking sites suspected of infringing copyright.

National security policy to cover cybersecurity

On May 30, the government’s executive branch announced plans to submit a proposal [zh] to amend Taiwan's National Security Law which not only asserts that “the protection of national security should expand to the Internet” but also encourages citizens to report on any activity that they believe could endanger national security.

Blogger metamuse commented [zh] on the proposal:

這些條文精神具皆中國對網路的管理辦法與特色,並給予「保防安全」、「國家安全」這類相當漂亮的名目,如果這修正條文在立法院審議過關,台灣又將重回戒嚴時期…即便公民在網路上揭露政府舞弊、貪汙、迫害與各項違法情事,只要被政府以「違反國家安全」為由,就能進行「言論清洗」,能要求各級機關、網站刪除不利言論,公民再也不能獲得真相與了解被隱匿的事實…

These articles resemble the laws by which the Chinese government manage[s] the Internet, and grant the grand justification of ‘protection from espionage’ and ‘protecting national security’. If the amendment is going to be passed in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan will [return] to the age when Taiwan was governed by the Martial Law…whenever citizens reveal government’s corruption and illegal dealings, the government could ‘purify the speech’  under the excuse of ‘endangering national security’, and mandate all the websites to censor the content which is on the opposite side of the government. Citizens can no longer access to and understand the truth…

Telecommunication Act could require ISPs to police content

The third policy change that has stirred concerns of censorship is the amendment [zh] to Article 9 of the Telecommunication Act, proposed by the National Communications Commission (NCC). The amendment requires ISPs to remove content deemed illegal by the government. If the content “disturbs public order and decent morals, the ISPs can disconnect internet services, remove content, or take other appropriate actions.” It is incumbent on ISPs to determine which content violates federal standards, a policy approach that could result in ISPs over-blocking controversial sites in an effort to avoid legal liability.

Giddens, a famous writer in Taiwan posted [zh]  his comment on the amendment on his blog:

如此我所認識的台灣政府,令我相信,我們的政府會慢慢的、漸漸的、偷偷地將「非法資訊」擴張成「政府不喜歡的資訊」,在未來,這個法案會演變成「思想篩選」的最邪惡法案。

The Taiwanese government I know makes me believe that our government will slowly, gradually, and stealthily expand the definition of ‘illegal content’ to ‘the content which the government dislikes.’ The legislation will become the most evil of all which ‘censor thoughts’.

Reviewing the three proposed amendments, CK Hung, a Taiwanese blogger and college professor, pointed to the US influence behind the recent legislation, taking the amendment to Copyright Act as an example:

If US influences were not a major driving force, it would be hard to find logical explanations [as to] why the IPO would propose the comically primitive methods of DNS seizure and IP blocking (as opposed to the more sophisticated — and still bypassable — Golden Shield Project model) when any competent IT professional (if the IPO ever consulted one) would point out their futility from a technical point of view. Equally noteworthy is the absence of any economic experts and domestic copyright holder groups behind the proposal to justify its usefulness for helping national economy, or at least a sector thereof. In fact many people argue that such measures would hurt the interest of domestic copyright holders since the censorship would, ironically, facilitate foreign infringement upon domestic works while keeping the copyright holders in the dark.

The amendment to National Security Law, which would allow the Ministry of Justice to oversee the Internet in order to “protect national security” also reminded Hung of the US Justice Department and its recent controversies:

According to the National Security Law, sitting at the top of the command is the Ministry of Justice, which is reminiscent of the Department of Justice in the US, notorious for the Swartz suicide scandal, the Associated Press surveillance scandal, the mysterious secrecy about Wikileaks and Bradley Manning's prosecution, among other censorship-related controversies.

Taiwanese netizens have initiated a campaign and created a Facebook page [zh] to promote legislation protecting network neutrality and fight against undue government and industry control over content and activities on the Internet.

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  • [...] Taiwan: Internet Policy Reforms Spark Fears of Censorship This spring, the Taiwanese government has proposed multiple amendments to existing laws that could [...]

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