Big Brother is Watching!

The Singapore Government is reported to use spyware to go into its citizens’ computers and copy files, record Skype calls, read e mails, messages and access to password, all in the name of ‘national interests’.

Digital News Asia story:

Singapore is using spyware, and its citizens can’t complain

By Gabey GohAug 03, 2015
Leaked Hacking Team documents lists industry regulator IDA as a customer
Citizens have no rights to privacy, but Govt concerned about public trust

THE Singapore Government is using spyware that can copy files from your hard disk; record your Skype calls, e-mails, instant messages and passwords; and even turn on your webcam remotely – and if you’re Singaporean, you have no constitutional right to complain.

Yes, that’s right – the Singapore Constitution does not include a right to privacy. In addition, because of various pieces of legislation including the Criminal Procedure Code (amended in 2012) and the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act (amended in 1997), the Government does not need prior judicial authorisation to conduct any surveillance interception.

Indeed, the regulatory structure governing the surveillance of citizens is very much controlled by the Executive branch, with little judicial oversight, according to Eugene Tan, assistant professor with the School of Law at the Singapore Management University (SMU).

“I would say that we are in a state of affairs in which very little is known about what the Government conducts surveillance on, how it does it, and the regulatory controls in place.

“The courts have placed a lot of premium on the Executive’s assessment of what national security requires,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.

The use of surveillance tools – or spyware – by nation-states was brought to the forefront again in July after Italian spyware maker Hacking Team was hacked, and information on its business released on the Internet.

The leak of 300GB worth of data offered a look inside a segment of the security industry that is typically hidden in secrecy.

Disclosed documents showed that Hacking Team had 70 current customers, mostly military, police, federal and provincial governments across the world, and that it had recorded revenue above €40 million (US$44.5 million).

Three Malaysian government entities were named in these records: The Malaysia (sic) AntiCorruption Commission, the Prime Minister (sic) Office and an unknown entity known only as Malaysia Intelligene (sic).

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) was also listed as a current customer, after it renewed its maintenance contract with Hacking Team for the company’s Remote Control System software in February.

Malaysian civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan told DNA that if it were indeed true that the Malaysian Government was spying on its people, “then major violations of our fundamental liberties would have taken place.”

“Article 5 of the Federal Constitution provides that all persons have the right to life and personal liberty. Personal liberty here includes the right to privacy, as recognised by the Federal Court,” he said.

“So the law recognises the right to privacy. Spying on citizens is a violation to this right to privacy. As such, it contravenes Article 5 of the Federal Constitution,” he added.

The colonial context

Singapore, however, does not afford its citizens such rights. Tan told DNA that the regulatory regime in Singapore was geared towards concerns of national security from the outset.

“So matters like judicial authorisation and where the constitutional rights fit in were probably not incorporated from the start.

“We must remember that we inherited the colonial British apparatus in internal security matters, and so rights did not feature prominently,” he said.

However, Tan said that beyond legal controls, the Government is mindful that any improper use of surveillance apparatus and internal security laws would result in a massive loss of public confidence.

“So this abiding need to maintain the legitimacy, trust and confidence is foremost. It would be accurate to say that the regulatory regime in Singapore is [guided] by non-legal restraints like maintaining public confidence, rather than a reliance on legal mechanisms.

“In short, [it’s] a very different approach altogether from what we see in other liberal democratic controls,” he said.

Depth of surveillance unknown

In its June 2015 report entitled The Right to Privacy in Singapore: Stakeholder Report Universal Periodic Review 24th Session, Privacy International said that despite some evidence from security researchers, details of the capacity of the Singaporean Government to conduct surveillance and the scope of its surveillance infrastructure remain unknown.

Privacy International is a human rights organisation that works to advance and promote the right to privacy around the world.

“Yet, it is widely acknowledged that Singapore has a well-established, centrally-controlled technological surveillance system designed to maintain social order and protect national interest and national security,” the report said.

The surveillance structure in Singapore spreads wide from CCTVs (closed-circuit televisions), drones, Internet monitoring, access to communications data, mandatory SIM card registration, identification required for registration to certain websites, and the use of big data analytics for governance initiatives including traffic monitoring.

[Download the full Privacy International report here.]

In 2013, Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto found evidence that PacketShaper, produced by the US-based security firm Blue Coat Systems Inc, was in use in Singapore.

PacketShaper allows the surveillance and monitoring of user interactions on various applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Mail, and Skype.

Citizen Lab also found command and control servers for FinSpy backdoors, part of Gamma International’s FinFisher “remote monitoring solution,” in a total of 25 countries, including Singapore.

FinSpy is malware – a software program that gives its operator the ability to observe and control an individual’s computer or mobile device – produced by British-German company Gamma International.

However, the Singapore Government has denied using spy software.

Lack of concern

Asked about how the general Singaporean population felt about the carte blanche permission the Government has when it comes to surveillance, SMU’s Tan said it perhaps is a case of “ignorance is bliss.”

“There is implicit trust that surveillance is specifically for security concerns alone, and that there is no mass surveillance.

“Most of the time, people don’t think about these things. But all it takes is for one scandal to occur and the state of play will be very different,” he added.

Asked about what controls there were to prevent the use of private surveillance industry products to facilitate human rights abuses by the Government, Tan said he was not aware of any such controls in place.

“But the Singapore Government treads very carefully to ensure that it stays within the law and does not run afoul of its human rights obligations,” he said.

“And where there is use of third-party products, I believe the controls are robust, particularly with what information and surveillance data is provided to or obtainable by private vendors and how they are used,” he said.

Some laws in Singapore regulate the processing of personal data, including in the public sector, such as the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act which criminalises unauthorised access to data. However, they do not regulate or address the lawful collection of data.

Other safeguards for privacy and personal data are included in the Official Secrets Act, the Statistics Act, the Statutory Bodies and Government Companies (Protection of Secrecy) Act, and the Electronic Transactions Act.

Laws that regulate data held by private sector entities include the Personal Data Protection Act, the Banking Act, and the Telecommunications Act; whilst other relevant legislation include the law of confidence, which addresses misuse and publication of confidential information.

Tan said that judicial review could be one mechanism by which concerned citizens could challenge the Government’s decisions and actions.

“But the difficulty is always obtaining evidence that one has been ‘surveilled’ indiscriminately or for unlawful purposes,” he said.

Refusal to ratify international covenant

The Privacy International report also noted that Singapore has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Article 17 of the ICCPR provides that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.”

“This raises significant concerns in light of the fact that the legal framework regulating interception of communication falls short of applicable international human rights standards, and judicial authorisation is sidelined and democratic oversight is non-existent,” the Privacy International report said.

Tan said that Singapore has not indicated any intention to sign the ICCPR.

“But the Government here is conscious of the need to do right – especially by the law. So while the regulatory regime is relatively opaque, there are probably internal controls to ensure proper use of the extensive powers of surveillance,” he said.

But Tan also argued that the first challenge is to recognise that there is a need for a regulatory regime that is not centred exclusively on the Executive. This recognition is particularly relevant to the Government.

“Once there is this recognition, then there would be a need to consider the type of regulatory regime,” he said.

“In the Singapore context, we can be sure that the Government would rather [have] a regime that grants it generous latitude about how it conducts surveillance and the broad liberty to exercise discretion in making such decisions.

“A third challenge is the need for civil society to meaningfully engage the Government without the Government being concerned that a more robust regime would curb its operational effectiveness and efficacy – while ensuring that the maintenance of national security does not result in abuses of rights,” he added.

– See more at:


If this report is true, see how the people just across from the southern-most city on continent Asia is dealing with getting tough on their own netizens.

The Singapore Government is very determined that the national interest supersede anything else.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Razak urged the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission to get tough on those who abuse, misuse and adulterate social media platforms for sinister purposes which could destabilise the nation.

Considering that the Prime Minister personally has been demonised and major Federal Government ministries, agencies and commissions have been under constant attack, the strike against the abusers, misusers, hackers and habitual liars within the cybersphere should contained and reprimanded a long time ago.

Published in: on August 3, 2015 at 15:00  Comments (19)  

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19 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A ball at the feet of messi is something to be mesmerized by. A ball at the feet of a malaysian footballer is akin to watching paint dry.

    • In the field of sports now, there is a lot of doping in the track and field events. In the field of politics, there is a lot of doping, too.

      Such that billionaire Donald Trump is now leading in the US Republican presidential aspirants campaign preliminaries.

  2. KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 — Malaysia’s graftbusters confirmed today that RM2.6 billion had been deposited into Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s accounts but said the funds came from “donors” and not 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) as previously alleged.

    • Err BD

      Will you still defend Najib who declared loudly in his Bugis warrior war cry, “I believe Tun, working hand in glove with foreign nationals, including the now discredited political attack blog Sarawak Report, is behind this latest lie.”

  3. Najib had refused to follow Singapore by licensing the so-called news portals, and Opposition-financed blogs like Malaysia Kini, Malaysian Insider and Malaysia Chronicle have been having glorious days of twisting, spinning and slanting “news” against the Establishment. Five of the editors of Malaysian Insider were hauled in and charged under the Sedition Act on separate occasions some time back, yet they have continued with the same posture despite that. Malaysia Chronicle have often been putting out highly provocative “news” headings.

    Well, it looks like Najib is following Singapore up to a point in so far as internet control is concerned.

    Under ordinary circumstances, Najib’s move to streamline and enforce the laws on the social media would not have attracted much attention. But, having tried to show liberal tendencies by abolishing ISA, EO and RRA and trying to abolish the Sedition Act, many members of the public would think that the decision must be tinged with the need to ensure the fallout from the removal of Muhyiddin and Shafie Afdal from the Cabinet does not affect UMNO/BN’s chances of winning PRU14.

    After all, surveys have shown the increasing use of social media and those turning to Facebook for political news constitute about half of media users.

    Ahmad Zahid said that he and Hishammuddin, 2 of the 3 elected UMNO Vice Presidents, have already discussed and decided to draw up measures to clear the air and confusion among party members following the recent cabinet reshuffle. The other elected Vice President, Shafie Afdal, and Deputy President Muhyiddin, both of whom have said they would be loyal to UMNO, must have been busy – and are now having a lot of time on their hands – explaining their stand leading to being dropped out from the cabinet to UMNO members all over the country.

    Political expediency or flip flopping or not, the announcements having been made, social media practitioners may not from now on be so free in what they say. Well, freedom is never absolute. Yet some try to be more absolute than others.

    • On Twitter, nearly 90% against Muhyiddin’s Cabinet removal, survey reveals

      TODAYonline – 3 July‎

      the fallout from the removal of Muhyiddin and Shafie Afdal –

      overall, it’s the fallout from the 1MDB scandal, which will not lessen – might even increase – with MACC saying the RM2.6 billion in Najib’s bank accounts is not from 1MDB but from “donors”.

      • Who are these donors?
        Do they expect returns?
        Is this money taxable?
        Is this considered a “bribe”?
        Will Malaysia be pawned to repay this donation?

      • In the first place, it’s very difficult to chew the “donors” thing without details like who and what kind of relationship the donors have with UMNO, Najib, or even the country.

        Muhyiddin said Najib told him it was from the Middle East. And there has been so much talk about 1MDB “investment” in PetroSaudi.

        Yet 1MDB said the PAC meetings have been postponed indefinitely, on the advice of the Ministry of Finance. The rakyat need more answers, and convincing answers, too, for the scandal to fizzle out from their minds.

      • Betul jugak kata Tun Dr Mahathir –

        Using RM2.6b for polls violates election rules, says Dr M
        Malay Mail Online – ‎13 hours ago‎

        Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he did not spend much for polls during his time as Umno president. – Picture by Yusof Mat Isa. KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 – Using RM2.6 billion in a single election would breach existing rules governing limits on poll spending, …

      • Rakyat dan pengundi tentu mengalu alukan PAC mengumumkan pendapat mereka setakat ini –

        PAC mulls making its 1MDB findings public
        TODAYonline – ‎57 minutes ago‎

        Faced with a temporary freeze on its current proceedings, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is now considering of releasing a brief report on its inquiry on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), due to public interest.

      • Looks like it’s just DAP propaganda PAC deputy chairman Tan Seng Giaw talking about “making its 1MDB findings public.” The latest news to day is that he said “PAC may have to come out with a brief report of how far it has proceeded with the 1MDB inquiry before the proceedings are suspended for nearly three months.”

        He also engaged in a play of words – “a brief report of how far it has proceeded with the 1MDB inquiry” doesn’t mean much.

        He knows Speaker Pandikar Amin last Friday said the PAC could not hold proceedings until a new Chairman has been appointed and the Deputy Speaker has said the Auditor General’s Interim Report will remain confidential after PAC has completed its investigations and a report is tabled to Parliament.

        But I support any call for early re-convening of the PAC, completion of investigations and tabling of their report. It’s been so long the rakyat has not got satisfactory answers on 1MDB.

      • Correction:

        Should be

        the Auditor General’s Interim Report will remain confidential UNTIL after PAC has completed its investigations and a report is tabled to Parliament.

  4. Singapore is facing general elections. PAP has become quite nervous with recent developments, changes of attitude among the voters. The young have been more vocal, many have migrated, those still in Singapore have gotten to see the light of day after the very heavy iron hand under Lee Kuan Yew as PM.

    Gone are the days of Lee Kuan Yew telling foreign correspondents that he’d send them to Pulau … whatever the name, where the huge prison is. No more making those who stole landscaping plants be made to plant them again live in front of Spore TV cameras.

    No more him suing MPs to bankruptcy thereby losing their MP status until at one time there were only 2 Opposition MPs in the whole of Singapore Parliament. No doubt, after he left the PM post, as Minister Mentor he still had a lot of say but the PM after him did leave some marks. Yes, Big Brother continued to be on the wall but the whacking of erring citizens lessened.

    And now the complaints that they don’t have the constitutional right to complain have come out. But the very fact they put such complaints out and reported by the media is telling. Here is an example of PAP worries:

    Singapore PAP dictatorship’s greatest worry. Losing the elections ..…/singapore-pap-dictatorships-greatest….
    Jan 10, 2015 – These are crooks of the highest order, the most corrupt government in … report “Opposition Singapore Democratic party launches campaign for …

    And Najib would like to borrow a leaf from the Singapore book, announcing the intended control on the social media.

  5. Malaysia may not have a Big Brother watching – not at the moment at least. And Reuters, one of the oldest British news organizations, that is spread world wide in news coverage and readership, carries a report not favourable to Najib:

    “Malaysian PM’s critics unbowed despite anti-graft agency support

    “Malaysian opposition parties and activists kept up pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday, undeterred by an anti-corruption agency statement apparently clearing him of receiving nearly $700 million from the debt-laden state fund 1MDB.

    “A senior member of Najib’s party also broke ranks over the scandal, suggesting that the prime minister’s moves to oust dissenters from positions of power and effectively delay a probe into the fund had failed to put his government out of danger…”

  6. Reuters, known for its level-headed reporting, also said:

    “on Tuesday (4 Aug) party colleague and chief minister of the state of Johor Mohamed Khaled Nordin said UMNO could not keep quiet if “corruption becomes a culture or trust is betrayed”.

    “UMNO cannot keep quiet when the party no longer champions the cause of Malays but is instead used to defend a few under the name of loyalty or discipline in adhering to leaders,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

    “Najib’s biggest critic, influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, also weighed in, questioning why a donation was made into his successor’s personal accounts.

    “Not even a cent of donated funds for election was deposited into my account,” Mahathir said in a blog post.

    “Public outrage against the government is also growing.”

  7. i dont see any difference between RBA and pro najib bloggers nowadays… their mission is to defend their paymaster.

    • Big difference. RBA can’t even write proper Englsih and use a lot of rude words and profanities, sometimes even vulgar.

      • Che Isa

        Improper and crude English is a small matter.

        The big issue is to receive payment for blind defence irregardless of the TRUTH.

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