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Chapter: 

II. Surveillance policy

Communications surveillance

Law enforcement authorities have extensive networks to gather information and conduct surveillance, as well as sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone and other private conversations. Court warrants are not required for such surveillance. The law allows the government to monitor Internet use.1 Authorities are believed to routinely monitor telephone conversations and Internet use, as well as monitor opposition politicians and government critics. According to the US State Department Report on Human Rights Practices of Singapore, there were no confirmed reports of such practices in 2004.2

In July 1998, the Singapore government enacted three major bills concerning computer networks. They are the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act (CMA), the Electronic Transactions Act and the National Computer Board (Amendment) Act. CMA prohibits the unauthorized interception of computer communications.3 It also provides the police with additional powers of investigation, and makes it an offense to refuse to assist the police in an investigation. CMA also grants law enforcement broad power to access data and encrypted material when conducting an investigation. In November 2003, CMA was revised, allowing the government to arrest an individual on suspicion of computer hacking, with penalties up to SGD 10,000 (~USD 5,950) or up to three years' imprisonment.4 This power of access requires the consent of the Public Prosecutor. The Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) was enacted in July 1998 to create a legislative framework for electronic transactions. It imposes a duty of confidentiality on records obtained under the act and imposes a maximum SGD 10,000 fine and 12-month jail sentence for disclosing those records without authorization. In 2005, IDA and AGC updated ETA5 in order to cover new services and technologies, including biometrics, radio frequency identification (RFID), Wi-Fi, WiMax and others.6 Police have broad powers to search any computer and to require disclosure of documents for an offense related to the act without a warrant.7 More broadly, the government has wide discretionary powers under the Internal Security Act, the Criminal Law Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act, and the Undesirable Publications Act to conduct searches without warrants, as is normally required, if it determines that national security, public safety or order, or the public interest are at issue.8 Defendants have the right to request judicial review of such searches.

The Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (TAS) governed electronic surveillance of communications until it was merged with the National Computer Board in the late 1990s and eventually became part of IDA.9 The government has extensive powers under the Internal Security Act and other acts to monitor anything that is considered a threat to "national security."

Government-owned or government-controlled companies operate all ISPs.10 Each person in Singapore wishing to obtain an Internet account must show his national ID card to the provider to obtain an account.11 ISPs reportedly provide, on a regular basis, information on users to government officials without complying with legal requirements. In 1994, Technet - then the only Internet provider in the country serving the academic and technical community - scanned through e-mail of its members looking for pornographic files. According to Technet, they scanned the files without opening the mails, looking for clues like large file sizes. In September 1996, a man was fined USD 43,000 for downloading sex films from the Internet. It was the first enforcement of Singapore's Internet regulation. The raid followed a tip-off from Interpol, which was investigating people exchanging pornography online. Afterwards, SBA told citizens that it does not monitor e-mail messages, chat groups, sites people access, or what they download.12

A recent MDA survey found that 65 percent of Singaporeans between 15 – 49 years old use the Internet.13 The findings were used to announce the line-up of public events under the MediAction! Campaign for 2006. MediAction! is a public outreach program that engages Singaporeans on Internet use in order to show the excitement, benefit, and ease of use that media can provide individuals.14

Although the Constitution gives citizens the right to move freely throughout the country, the government has limited this right in a few instances. For example, it requires all citizens and permanent residents over the age of 15 to register and carry identification cards.15 The government is also active in some areas normally considered private, in pursuit of what it considers the public interest. For example, the government continues to enforce ethnic ratios for publicly subsidized housing, where the majority of citizens live and own their own units, designed to achieve an ethnic mix more or less in proportion to that in the society at large.16

Video surveillance cameras are commonly used for monitoring roads and preventing littering in many areas.17 In 1995, the government proposed that cameras be placed in all public spaces in Tampines, a neighborhood in Singapore, including corridors, lifts, and open areas such as public parks, car parks and neighborhood centers, and that the cameras broadcast on the public cable television channel.18 Authorities increasingly have installed closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in areas chosen because of residents' complaints about illegal prostitution and fights.19 They plan on installing more over time based on consultation with residents and tenants about where they are most needed.20 Recently, authorities called for the use of cameras in the streets to beef up security against terrorism, especially in places with a higher incidence of crime and those popular with the public.21 After the July 2005 terrorist bombings in London, authorities began testing CCTV on buses and trains, as well as other public areas.22 Despite the extensive and arguably invasive monitoring, most Singaporeans support placing surveillance cameras in public places, according to a 2000 survey conducted by the Straits Times.

Footnotes