4 Sexing the Internet
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4 Sexing the Internet Censorship, Surveillance, and the Body Politic(s) of Malaysia Heike Jensen, Jac sm Kee, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, and Sonia Randhawa The scholarly investigation of digital censorship and surveillance has moved from an initial focus on fact finding—what was filtered, who was under surveillance, and how this was accomplished technologically—to more contextualized investigations of the political, economic, and social dimensions of specific censorship and surveillance practices. A gender-sensitive approach is arguably more important now than ever for fully understanding the meanings and struggles over censorship and surveillance regimes. For instance, consider the central finding reported by Jonathan Zittrain and John Palfrey: “The Internet content blocked for social reasons—commonly pornography , information about gay and lesbian issues, and information about sex education— is more likely to be the same across countries than the political and religious information to which access is blocked.”1 Why should this be the case? And which logic has encouraged the common suppression of such disparate content? The logic at issue is the logic underlying the nation-state and its task of perpetuating itself through the reproduction and renegotiation of its internal social hierarchies. We use Malaysia as a case study to point out some of these dimensions of national reproduction, tied as they are to the reproduction of citizens within national borders. At issue here is a nation’s patriarchal policing of gender roles and their appropriate forms of (potentially procreative) sexuality, from an overall heteronormativity to finely tuned divisions based on class, race, region, and other salient markers.2 This policing has been increasingly transferred to the digital realm, because this space has in unprecedented ways accommodated both the proliferation of alternative takes on the established gender and sexual order and the policing of citizens through censorship and surveillance. Gender-sensitive research is thus urgently needed in this field of study, and our exploratory chapter is meant to chart some of the prime issues that need to be tackled.3 To begin with, a change of perspective is required to see that the social issues in digital censorship and surveillance are not “soft” and relatively unimportant compared to “hard” issues such as political or religious persecution, but are in fact the central matters that go directly to the root of the social fabric. Attention to the reproduction 66 Heike Jensen, Jac sm Kee, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, and Sonia Randhawa of gender and sexuality within the framework of the nation-state is essential for understanding the morality debates that have increasingly come to dominate discussions about Internet governance and digital censorship and surveillance. Such a focus is essential because different kinds of political and economic tensions within a nationstate can be mediated by contesting morality issues and related gender and sexual issues in the digital realm. Employing a gender lens fundamentally shifts the very definitions of censorship and surveillance to include a basic lack of freedom of expression and privacy. It shows how most women and many disenfranchised men have been kept from contributing to the public sphere by social and economic structures and agents other than state censors, and how many women have been placed under surveillance by their social peers rather than state agents. In drawing attention to these circumstances, a gender lens generates a more comprehensive understanding of the agents of censorship and surveillance, showing that the state is only one among several entities and institutions that systematically hinder specific groups of people from expressing themselves freely or from enjoying a self-determined degree of privacy. Such an augmented understanding of censorship, surveillance, and its agents is crucial for understanding the precise stakes and scope of state-initiated censorship and surveillance systems. It additionally creates a useful familiarity with agents beyond the state precisely at a time when there is growing evidence that nonstate actors have become increasingly recruited by certain states to carry out undercover censorship and surveillance missions. This practice was identified by Ronald Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski as “next-generation information controls.”4 Similarly, as it is becoming increasingly obvious that the absence of state-imposed digital censorship and surveillance in a nation does not mean that all its citizens enjoy freedom of expression and privacy, research needs to dig deeper into the multilayered mechanisms that regulate speech and privacy. Such conditions can be illustrated quite well by our case study of Malaysia. While we could not detect any state-level Internet filtering in Malaysia when we conducted the testing for the...


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