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Singapore won't be censoring websites bearing the .xxx suffix
[June 07, 2011]

Singapore won't be censoring websites bearing the .xxx suffix

SINGAPORE, Jun 07, 2011 (The Straits Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Singapore Internet users will not be barred from the Web's upcoming new red light district.

Content regulator Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) and Internet service providers (ISPs) say they do not have plans to block websites bearing the .xxx suffix, which is designated for sites run by the adult industry.

The controversial voluntary suffix was first suggested by the International Foundation for Online Responsibility in 2003, which says the move would make it easier for parents to block such content from impressionable children.

The move, however, drew fire from free speech advocates, while others slammed it as useless in the light of the glut of pornography available online.

Following years of negotiations, the suffix was finally approved for use in March by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann). A week ago, Icann began accepting applications from companies in the adult industry to register such websites, although it has not yet set a date on when the first .xxx sites will appear.

In Singapore, said MDA deputy director for regulations Yuvarani Thangavelu, "it is not practical to block all objectionable sites given the borderless and dynamic nature of the Internet", especially when the sites are hosted overseas.

Even so, as a "a symbolic statement of our community's stand on harmful and undesirable content on the Internet", the MDA has mandated ISPs block 100 sites.

While there is no way to say just how popular online pornographic content is, adult sites appear regularly in website tracking service Alexa's top 100 websites listings for Singapore.

The MDA historically does not disclose the 100 banned sites, but The Straits Times understands not all are pornographic in nature; some banned sites, for instance, promote alternative lifestyles like drugs or racism.

The MDA does not intend to expand the list to include .xxx sites. But Ms Thangavelu said it will go after locally hosted pornographic .xxx sites, to get these sites taken offline.

Major ISPs here, including SingNet, StarHub and M1, also say they have no plans to block .xxx websites.

Parents worried about such sites, however, can sign up for StarHub's SafeSurf Internet filter service, said its corporate communications manager Cassie Fong. This service is expected to blanket block all .xxx sites.

"To allow parents to enjoy peace of mind when their children go online... we will be working closely with our vendor to ensure that websites with the .xxx domain names will be blocked," she said.

All major ISPs have similar family Internet filter services, which cost about S$3 (US$2.4) a month.

It is illegal under the Films Act to possess pornographic material, and those found with it can be fined thousands of dollars. However, the Government has said previously it would not pro-actively hunt down those who download pornographic material.

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