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'Sexting' carries stricter laws in Asia

Sexually-suggestive messages via phone or e-mail in Asia can land senders in hot soup, even if solicited, says lawyer.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

Sexually-suggestive SMS messages can get senders in trouble with the law, and it doesn't matter if they're solicited, says a Singapore lawyer.

The rising trend of "sexting", or sending pornographic images or messages to others via mobile phone, has caught the attention of authorities globally.

In the United States, sending such messages may fall under child abuse laws, if the sender or recipient is underaged, or be considered harassment if unsolicited.

Here in Asia, sexting appears to be governed by stricter rules which apply even to consenting adults.

The Chinese government recently launched a campaign against Internet and mobile phone pornography. China's Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center (CIIRC) released a list of content guidelines that will be used to screen mobile phone messages.

In response, China Mobile said in January it will proactively filter mobile phone messages on its network, in accordance with a list of keywords issued by the government.

The Chinese carrier will suspend the mobile phone numbers of offending parties. Individuals with objections can take up the issue with the public security department and get their numbers reinstated, with government approval, said China Mobile.

In Singapore, these messages fall under the Undesirable Publications Act, which includes obscene or objectionable content sent digitally, said Mark Lim, head of intellectual property of media and entertainment at law firm Tan Peng Chin.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Lim said the Act includes messages sent via e-mail as well, but noted that the authorities typically act on complaints and do not prosecute on their own.

Messages sent between two consenting adults will less likely land either in hot soup, but it doesn't rule out the possibility of the police clamping down, he said.

Bryan Tan, Keystone Law director, said via e-mail Singapore does not have a general privacy law, so the government is able to monitor SMS or e-mail messages sent.

Lim added that besides images, individuals can also be prosecuted for explicit text messages.

The Undesirable Publications Act covers books, magazines, sound recordings, photos and drawings and digitally stored media.

Lim said the penalties for such cases remain unclear for now, since no such case has been brought to court yet.

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