THE Brooklyn Bridge in New York is one of the United States' most famous bridges.
At the time of its completion in 1883, it was the world's longest suspension bridge, and was duly hailed as a feat of 19th-century engineering.
The achievement guaranteed the bridge a place in the American collective consciousness, not just as a symbol of industrial prowess, but also in one other interesting manner.
Although no one can agree on how it came about, the bridge is also famous for phrases concerning its “buying” and “selling”.
If you describe someone as a person who could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, you are saying that he is a very persuasive person.
A person who would try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge is someone whose integrity and honesty are highly questionable.
And of course, those who buy the bridge are gullible.
You could say that people who fall for such offers have been around since time immemorial, and there has never been any shortage of suckers.
Because this mind-boggling gullibility exists in not a few people, scams of all manner of ingenuity remain alive and kicking.
In this age of the Internet, there are generous people willing to fork out a “small fee” for the opportunity to become custodians to the millions, and sometimes billions of (insert currency unit) stashed away by African dictators, usually deposed, dying or dead.
Others deposit money to open an account into which their multi-million euro lottery winnings are to be wired.
The latest craze, and it is indeed maddening, are online investments where you supposedly stand to earn large returns for a relatively small amount upfront.
Malaysians, it seems, have taken to these moneymaking schemes like ducks to water, with thousands reportedly not only participating, but also being cheated. Are you in any way surprised?
The authorities have apparently had enough of these schemes, and the combined might of Bank Negara, the Securities Commission (SC), the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and CyberSecurity Malaysia have been brought to bear upon their purveyors in the country.
The SC has identified about 60 illegal investment websites, and together with Bank Negara and the police, is tracking down the people behind them.
Offices have been raided and several people remanded to aid in investigations.
To enhance public awareness on the dangers of these schemes, the SC has also published online an FAQ titled Do Not Invest in Illegal Internet Investment Schemes. How much clearer can you get?
But it has also warned so-called investors to withdraw their money from such schemes and close their accounts, for online access to these sites will be blocked.
The cyber-crackdown has begun, with six websites now made inaccessible to Malaysian Internet users.
This move is arguably the most radical component of the entire effort against illegal online investment websites.
It is the first instance in the country of the authorities blocking access to a website, in this case, several of them.
And it is an action that should not be taken lightly.
Stripped down to its most fundamental, the act of blocking the websites amount to the authorities making a decision on a matter that should rightfully be solely in the hands of individual Malaysians: To visit or not to visit a particular website.
If it were argued that the content on such websites should be deemed as part of an illegal activity, then the right step, as far as the content is concerned, would be to have it removed.
The authorities are already acting on that front. They are tracking down the people behind the schemes, raiding premises and confiscating equipment, including computers, and detaining the people concerned.
It can be said that with these and other actions mentioned, the authorities have done their moral and legal duty of enforcing the law and protecting citizens.
And while that duty includes putting in a reasonable effort to remove online content that is illegal in itself, or part of a larger illegal activity, it should not extend to preventing Malaysians from accessing illegal content that remains “unremoved” for whatever reason.
Take online pornography, for example.
There are several reasons Internet users in the country continue to be able to access such websites, despite their content being illegal under Malaysian law.
The most touted is the Government's pledge of non-censorship of the Internet.
There is also the matter of the websites being owned by foreigners and hosted overseas.
If there is to be any “blocking of access” to any website, the decision on such an action should be in the hands of the individual Internet user.
Even if it is argued that the act of blocking access to illegal investment websites by the authorities is to prevent and protect Malaysians from being cheated, it could also be argued that for consistency, at least, there should also be official efforts to filter out e-mail scams we receive in our inboxes daily.
Sounds crazy? It is.
To take a parallel, real-world example, why not also “protect” Malaysians with a total ban on cigarettes, which are a scientifically proven health hazard?
Whether we realise it or not, a precedent has been set on the Malaysian Internet landscape. It is a result of an effort undoubtedly made with the best of intentions, but it is something that we need to seriously reconsider.
For despite our best intentions, there will always be people willing to consider buying the Brooklyn Bridge.
Let them be the fools for taking up the “offer”, and not we for rushing in where angels fear to tread.
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