Unfair regulations for cybercafes (New Straits Times; 12/21/98) HERE comes another road hump on Malaysia's route towards the information highway! This was my immediate thought when reading the report that all cybercafes must now register their customers or risk losing their permits. Frankly, I do not think this is fair to the cybercafe operators as well as users. While I can understand the authorities' point of view, the move will victimise them, more than serve its purpose. Cybercafes are not the only place that Net users can spread rumours. Any others users, be they at home or offices, have more or less "equal opportunities" to do so. And how about the unattended Internet kiosks? Don't tell me one has to give similar detailed personal data when purchasing the prepaid card to use the kiosks! With the availability of free Web-based e-mail addresses, mostly US- based, Internet users can use as many aliases as they like. Tracing the actual origin of e-mails will be an enormous task. There are also hosts of programs and utilities to make the origin virtually untraceable. So why make cybercafe patrons the "prime suspects" should rumours start zipping across the Net? At it is, many cybercafe outlets are struggling to remain open. Some have even closed down. Now, forcing the cybercafe operators to record "...details like name, identity card number and home address of those who use the facilities..." would turn off a good number of patrons. (By the way, doesn't this sound a bit like going into a very secure facility? Would you not get the feeling of being "marked" every time you step into a cybercafe?) So, what can the cybercafe operators do if they don't get the customers? Run at a lost, close the operation, ignore the orders and risk being caught and lose the licence... then close the business, or go "underground"? Given the scenario, I think imposing too strict a control and monitoring will create more new demand for "underground" cyber outlets. This, I believe, will cause even bigger problems for the authorities. On a broader scope, I think is a bit ironic for a country that wants to promote greater use of the Internet and yet have regulations introduced that are incongruent with the base objective. It seems to me that one section of the country is trying to build and upgrade the network infrastructure so that everybody can have decent access to the Internet, and thus the global pool of information, but another section is introducing mechanisms that are bound to deter people from getting to the access point. I am not saying rumour-mongering is not a problem at all. As Dr Mohamad Awang Lah of Mimos put it (on NTV 7's Dateline programme last week) - it is human nature (to rumour-monger). Going by this, the root of the problem is with the people's attitudes - not the Internet or cybercafes. Hence, continuous education to improve the sense responsibility of each individual is a better solution. Everybody is still learning. Users are learning to grapple the flood of information while the authorities are struggling to keep with rapid development of technologies. Hopefully, we can strike a balance somewhere in between that is good for the growth of the industry and will not hurt anybody. Feedback, comments, opinions? E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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