Proposed law sparks fears of Web censorship

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 November, 2008, 12:00am

Concern has been raised over censorship in cyberspace after a government consultation paper suggested measures to prevent youngsters from accessing indecent material on the internet.

At an open forum held yesterday by the Civic Party's Kowloon West district branch, Charles Mok, chairman of the Internet Society's Hong Kong chapter, expressed concern that the proposals might hinder the free flow of information.

In a consultation paper on the review of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, released last month, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau listed a law compelling internet service providers to provide filtering software as one of the options to strengthen regulation.

Mr Mok opposed passing such a law.

'In fact ISPs have been providing filter services for more than 10 years, but for unknown reasons very few people use these services,' he said.

'If it is just because parents do not know about filter services, the government should promote knowledge about it instead of compelling people to use it.'

While noting that parents' concern over their children's exposure to obscene and indecent materials was valid, Mr Mok cautioned that regulation must strike a balance between protecting children and free speech.

He said he was afraid tightening of control over information dissemination on the internet might set a precedent for the censorship of books and other publications.

His comment was echoed by the forum host, Civic Party Kowloon West district chairwoman Claudia Mo Man-ching, who called the consultation document's section on internet publications 'Article 23 in cyberspace'. She said she was speaking in her personal capacity, as her party had not taken a stance on the issue.

Choi Chi-sum, an Obscene Articles Tribunal adjudicator and general secretary of the Christian group Society for Truth and Light, said speculating on political motives behind the consultation would not help.

'We are in a free society and no one wants to ban the dissemination of those materials,' he said. 'But it is important to prevent youths and children from being exposed to indecent information.'

He suggested that the government conduct surveys at least every two years to keep the tribunal's adjudicators abreast of public standards when categorising articles.

The administration has pledged it would not curb free speech.