President halts cyber censorship

By Bandula Sirimanna

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered the suspension of a plan by Sri Lanka’s telecommunications regulator to censor anti-government websites by blocking access to it with Chinese assistance, informed sources said.

This reversal of the decision by the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) follows last week’s Sunday Times front page report which referred to measures to clamp down on anti government information disseminated via independent online media.

A senior TRC official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the plan was intended to impose Internet censorship on offensive news websites by introducing regulations on the issue of licences and a fee to operate web sites.

But now this move had been suspended on a directive from the top, he said. In the past, the TRC had blocked access from Sri Lank to several news websites including lankaenews, lankanewsweb, and – through Sri Lanka Telecom -- without the consent of Internet Service Providers in Sri Lanka. The new plan of the TRC was to gain access to control all local news websites by making it compulsory to obtain Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from the TRC under new regulations.

The TRCs new Director General Anusha Pelpita said he had not received any directive to take measures to control news websites. But he acknowledged that monitoring could not be ruled out.
He said he had no knowledge about a plan to introduce Internet censorship and its links with NGN regulatory framework project which was launched last year. "Monitoring websites is not in the TRC mandate,” he said adding however that there were websites that were spreading false information.

The Sunday Times reliable learns a top level decision was taken earlier to seek the Chinese expertise to clamp down on offensive websites. It also learns that TRC was formulating this Internet censorship plan to link up with the World Bank funded NGN project without the knowledge of the funding agency.

Although there was no provision or scope to utilize World Bank funds, given to establish a policy and regulatory framework for Next Generation Networks (NGN), TRC was acting to impose arbitrary measures to control and censor independent media online by devising an Internet censorship plan which has now been suspended, it was reliably understood.

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