Online Spying in Singapore?
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Online Spying in Singapore?


It was an alarming headline taken from an article by Yahoo!SG: “S’pore among 25 govts using spy software: researchers.” The article, revolving around a report published by Citizen Lab, a think-tank at the University of Toronto, about a form of intrusion and surveillance software called FinSpy, made by UK-based Gamma Group International, suggested that the Singaporean government has been using software that allows them to “grab images off computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes.” A frightening thought…if it were true.

A closer look at the original Citizen Lab report reveals that the researchers merely found a “command and control” server for FinSpy in Singapore, operated by the company GPLHost. That company provides multi-domain hosting and has a presence in cities like Seattle, Paris, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, with most of their servers managed remotely.

The presence of a server in Singapore running FinSpy does not mean that it is being operated by a Singaporean, much less the Singaporean government. The Ministry of Home Affairs has denied that the government uses FinSpy (and the Yahoo!SG article has since been updated to reflect this).

Citizen Lab’s report may have triggered a false alarm, but many Singaporeans wonder about the degree of internet freedom they actually enjoy.

Chong Kai Xiong is a computer programmer who has volunteered with civil society groups, helping them with tech support and giving tips on IT security. “I would be somewhat surprised to see the government using FinSpy and similar software,” he said. “The main reason for my reservation is that FinSpy is intrusive and involves deception. Its installation is not automatic; the user must be deceived to click on the program stored in an email attachment. If found out, I think they would be in a lot of political and legal trouble.”

However, Chong warned that there is still a possibility of the government relying on some form of online surveillance. “The common uses of the Internet are not well secured by design, which is unfortunate. A lot of unencrypted data gets sent over the wire. If the government is able to wiretap our connections, which is very likely, they can gain a lot of information. But the thing is that there is no proof of this yet.”

Of course, internet surveillance is not the sole option open to governments. Old school methods exist too, and Singaporean activists have not failed to notice the government’s efforts to keep tabs on them.

Martyn See, a filmmaker whose political subjects have led to some of his work being banned in the country, added, “I believe that the government is monitoring dissidents and suspected religious extremists online. The US State Department’s annual human rights report on Singapore states so, and the Singapore government has never refuted that.”

Rod C.
May 8, 2013 at 10:41

Until, of course, they come for YOU.

April 7, 2013 at 07:21

Frankly if it can provide security and the country safe then why not.

As long as we have nothing to hide and not doing anything to hurt the country or even anything subversive against the state, policing it is fully acceptable.

Keeping the country safe is the utmost task and it would allow Singapore to pre-empt any one that even think they can get away wiith it.

Leonard R.
April 6, 2013 at 14:51

The problem for the US is not that Singapore's government is spying. The problem is what happens to that information once Singapore pilfers it. 

IMO, Singapore is a Chinese outpost – nothing more or less. It's a magnet for rich communists moving their money out of China. The Singaporean governing class is largely Chinese. The US is being grossly negligient to place any reliance on Singapore at all – much less to deploy its naval assets there.  

It is no friend to the US. The story of Shane Todd should tell Americans all they need to know about Singapore and its Chinese governing class. 

April 4, 2013 at 15:05

As a Singaporean, i personally dont mind the spying if it helps keeping our life in Singapore safe and sound.

give me a break
April 4, 2013 at 07:51

It’s a bit rich for the US State Dept to say that the Singapore govt uses online surveillance against potential miscreants (which it should).

What does the State Dept think the US govt’s Echelon network has been doing since 1948? Taking pizza orders, perhaps?

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