Our free nation has no need for a 'Great Firewall of Taiwan'

TAIPEI - The Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs announced on May 28 its proposal to block access to top piracy websites as well as overseas Internet services which infringe on copyrights.

The proposal, which was withdrawn by the TIPO on Monday, aimed to amend the Copyright Act by blocking links at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level. The proposal also put forward a long list of international websites and services for content restrictions where access would be unavailable to users within Taiwan.

The government claimed the proposal was geared toward fighting the manipulated battle against piracy and to protect those under the law of intellectual property. Although the TIPO said that only international websites which are notorious for piracy and copyright infringement would be banned, Taiwanese citizens expressed concern that the definition of "infringement" might be warped and that the original initiative could be corrupted and used for political purposes or other benefits. Blacklisted websites reportedly slated to be banned included Megaupload, Bit Torrent, Foxy and FTP sharing.

This announcement sparked much debate among international and local netizens regarding the restrictions and possible violations of freedom of speech. This SOPA-like first brick of the bill has been laid to build a firewall in Taiwan equivalent to the infamous "Great Firewall of China" across the strait.

The problem and controversy lies in that, if such a law is passed, definitions of which actions violate the law are ambiguous at best. The disturbingly vague language of the bill that revolves around the definition of "infringement" could also lead to future mass censorship of online content. The lack of transparency of the evaluation process as well as the inability of the public to refute certain bans on sites would also be of great concern. Whoever decides what to ban and why would hold too much power.

Upon hearing the announcement of the proposal by the TIPO, Facebook events such as "Stop Taiwan SOPA" popped up in protest, one of which was to stage an Internet blackout yesterday on certain websites. So far, sites such as Wikipedia Taiwan and Mozilla Taiwan have pledged blackouts to raise public awareness over this controversial issue. The "#freeandopen Objection to Closing the Country! Insistence on 100 Percent Free Internet!!" event was also launched on Facebook, asking the public to protest and demand the TIPO to withdraw its proposal. So far over 46,000 people have joined the event.

Internet censorship is the biggest threat to freedom of expression, the unrestricted sharing and flow of knowledge. Like many copyright infringement acts that have been proposed throughout the world over the recent years such as SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, this proposed Internet ban in Taiwan ran up against strong public backlash. If such a copyright amendment were to come into force, the Internet would be combed for "illegal websites" which use materials that infringe on copyright laws. This would prove to be detrimental to social websites such as YouTube, Dropbox or Reddit, as millions of users regularly upload their own content which may have incorporated other works.

Innovation and creativity can only thrive when information is free, interaction is unrestricted, and when sharing platforms remain open. The voice of the people is found in the power of the Internet and a free media, and if governments attempt to control that, it would be a direct violation of freedom of speech and democracy.