Singapore takes war on terror to the Web
Date: November 25, 2003
Laws allowing Singapore to launch pre-emptive strikes against computer hackers have raised fears that internet controls are being tightened and privacy compromised in the name of fighting terrorism.
The city-state's parliament has approved tough legislation aimed at stopping "cyber-terrorism", referring to computer crimes that could endanger national security, foreign relations, banking and essential public services.
Security agencies can now patrol the internet and swoop on hackers suspected of plotting to use computers as weapons of mass disruption.
Violators of the computer misuse act such as website hackers can be jailed up to three years or fined up to S$10,000 (HK$45,000).
But opponents fear the law will be abused.
"It could be misused to invade the privacy of citizens to gather information," said Sinapan Samydorai, president of Think Centre, a civil liberties group. He said the laws could be used as an "instrument of oppression" by the government.
But the Ministry of Home Affairs said the measures would be non-intrusive.
"Any scanning program deployed will not intrude into a subscriber's personal computer. It will only scan the internet passively to determine vulnerabilities in the affected network," a spokeswoman said.
The measures have been likened by critics to the Internal Security Act, which has been used to detain political dissidents and radicals without trial.
Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee said the new powers would be used sparingly, and warned that online saboteurs could be as dangerous as suicide bombers.
"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 delivery of an essential service, say, for example, a power station, thus causing it to malfunction," Mr Ho said.
Mr Ho said authorities had noted a big increase in hacking.
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