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  • Malaysia Orders Cybercafes to Register Users
  • December 29, 1998 (KUALA LUMPUR) -- In a further challenge to the local Internet community, Malaysia directed all cybercafes to register their customers or have their permits revoked.
    The directive was issued on Dec. 3 to all state governments to make it mandatory for cybercafes to maintain a record book to take down personal details such as the name, identity card number and home address of customers.

    Housing and Local Government Minister Ting Chew Peh said the directive was effective immediately and would be an additional condition included in permits issued nationwide.

    "Of late, there have been numerous cases of cybercafes being abused by unscrupulous people to spread malicious lies about the country via the Internet. We want to exercise tighter control and supervision over the activities in cybercafes, which is a new phenomenon in the country," he said.

    He said the move was also in response to a request from the Home Ministry, which he said had difficulties locating culprits who spread false information about the country.

    The Home Ministry is headed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and governs the police force.

    Ting said with the new condition, the police and local authorities could monitor the people frequenting cybercafes and track down any misuse.

    He added that cybercafe operators must produce the record books on request by police and local authorities, and random checks would be carried out to assure compliance. "Cybercafes that fail to comply will have their licenses revoked," he said.

    The move is part of a series of developments by the Malaysian government in recent times that appears in conflict with its guarantee of freedom of information on the Internet as promised under its Multimedia Super Corridor project.

    In August, the government invoked the harsh Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides for detention without trial for two years, arresting four people for allegedly spreading rumors of riots in the capital city via e-mail. The rumors prompted city dwellers into panic buying of groceries and spooked foreign exchange trading.

    The government has also stated it was keeping tabs on Web sites supporting a fledgling reform movement started by sacked deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Thousands have turned to the Internet to source the latest foreign news reports on the Mahathir-Anwar furor.

    More than 50 Web sites and various news groups and mailing lists have sprouted up mostly in favor of Anwar following his arrest on sexual misconduct and corruption charges in September. Industry analyst A. Shukor Rahman described the latest move to monitor cybercafes as unfair to the rights of operators and users and said it will victimize them.

    "Cybercafes are struggling to stay open, and the move will only turn away a good number of patrons. Imposing too strict controls will also create new demand for underground outlets," he said.

    Shukor, whose company publishes the local "Computimes," said it was ironic that a country that aims to promote the greater use of the Internet has rules incongruent with this objective. "It seems as if some agencies within the government want to promote access, while others are introducing mechanisms to deter it," he said.

    Shukor said although the government's fears of malicious rumor mongering may be legitimate, cybercafes were not the only place to do so. "Any user, be they at home or in an office, has equal opportunity. What about standalone Internet kiosks? Does one have to give similar detailed personal data now when purchasing prepaid cards?"

    (Julian Matthews, Asia BizTech Correspondent)

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    Updated: Mon Dec 28 13:14:35 1998 PDT