Last week, we documented network interference in Malaysia: local internet service providers (ISPs) were obstructing the free flow of traffic from selected sites hosting opposition political content, right ahead of a critical election. Users attempting to visit certain pages on Facebook, or videos on YouTube, were unable to access that content: their ISPs were monitoring their networks, identifying user requests for select content, and then preventing those platforms from returning any data. To a user, it would appear that Facebook or YouTube were responsible, while in reality, the local network was actively preventing certain information from being shared.
The action of these ISPs was in clear violation of the rights of Malaysian internet users–who have a right to a free and open internet, both under international human rights norms, as well as under Malaysian law. That’s right: the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998 requires the country’s major media regulator–the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, or MCMC–to keep the networks free of interference. Worse still, this interference appeared to be entirely politically motivated, preventing Malaysian citizens from exercising their right to information during an election, a crucial moment for the country’s self-governance.
We asked the Access community to demand accountability from the Malaysian government, and ensure the Malaysian internet stayed free and open. Thousands of members from more than 60 countries signed a petition telling the MCMC to keep Malaysia online–and we delivered that petition. On Sunday, May 5th, in the midst of the elections, we wrote to Sharil Tarmizi, head of the MCMC, to remind them that the world was watching: network interference is an unacceptable violation of Malaysians’ rights. Our letter is below:
Dear Mr Tarmizi,
I write as polling in the Malaysia election comes to a close, and counting of votes across the country commences. As the Executive Director of Access (accessnow.org), a global organization that defends and extends digital rights, I wish to alert you to detailed analysis which demonstrates that the open internet has been under attack during this contested election.
As we note in our report opposition websites and independent media have experienced significant network interference. Interference which we believe may be contrary to Malaysian law including the 1998 Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act.
We have found that in the last weeks, users on select ISPs could not access certain websites critical of the ruling government. These ISPs include such as Unifi, TM, Celcom, Digi, and Maxis. We have seen unencrypted communications seeking political content subject to deep packet inspection (DPI) or on the HTTP path in the request to the server, dropping return packets directed to the user.
Thousands of people from more than 60 countries including Malaysia have signed a petition calling on the MCMC to take action to keep the internet open during and post election:
Dear Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)
We are citizens from Malaysia and around the world. We call upon you to take all steps to ensure that the internet remains free and open in accordance with Malaysian and international human rights during and beyond the upcoming elections.
One of biggest concerns is that access to independent news sites will be blocked from this evening and call upon you to investigate any interference and take all necessary action to ensure that the internet remains open and secure for users.
We ask that you investigate and prosecute any attempts to censor content or limit the rights of Malaysians to securely access the open internet, as is consistent with the MCMC mission.
The Access tech team is available to talk with yourself or with the Commission as is appropriate in your investigations.