Cyber terrorism or Traditional Terrorism
Source: The Guardian
Date: November 12, 2003
Singapore has enacted draconian legislation allowing the government to give unspecified authorities power to take unlimited pre-emptive action against suspected cyber-terrorists and computer hackers.
Free speech activists yesterday strongly condemned the amendment to the Computer Misuse Act, claiming the government was using the excuse of fighting terror to further erode civil rights in the island republic. One MP likened it to an internet version of the state's Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without charge.
Under the amended law, the home affairs minister can authorise "any person or organisation... to take such measures as may be necessary to prevent or counter any threat to a computer or computer service" to defend "national security, essential services, defence or foreign relations". Essential services are defined as those relating to communications, infrastructure, banking and finance, public utilities, public transport, and the emergency services.
Ho Peng Kee, the minister who introduced the final reading on Monday, said the powers would be used "sparingly" but admitted the only checks and balances were "the professionalism and objectivity of our security agencies".
He claimed it was necessary to be vague, and to permit action before any crime had been committed, because computer crime and cyber-terrorism were evolving so rapidly.
"Instead of a backpack of explosives, a terrorist can create just as much devastation by sending a carefully engineered packet of data into the computer systems which control the network for essential services, for example the power stations," Mr Ho said.
Penalties under the law are not specified, but anyone who hacks into or defaces a website faces three years in jail or a S$10,000 (?3,500) fine.
One MP, Ho Geok Choo, said the amendment was ambiguous. "How does the police cyber-crime unit intend to differentiate between a real intent to compromise our national computer networks and those that are merely wild talk?" she said. "Indeed, it sounds very much like the cyberspace equivalent of the Internal Security Act."
Singapore has detained more than 30 people under this act since September 11, alleging they are members of the al-Qaida-linked Islamist terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah. None has been tried.
James Gomez, a free speech campaigner and editor of a forthcoming book on Asian cyber-activism, said the law was the latest and harshest example of an emerging trend in the region. "The excuse of terrorism has not only speeded up but also deepened the reach of legislation," he said, highlighting the absence of civil rights safeguards as the greatest concern."Who decides what's a sound and reliable source?" he asked. "It's arbitrary and open to abuse."
The minister said cybercrime was increasing every year in Singapore: the number of successful hacking attacks rose from 19 in 2001 to 41 last year. One network had faced more than 6,000 unsuccessful attempts in a three-month period this year, he said.
^macro[showdigestcomments;^uri;Cyber-terror crackdown sparks civil rights fears]