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Australian Broadcasting Corporation
12 November 2003
Singapore has introduced new laws giving local authorities sweeping powers to take pre-emptive action against so-called “cyber terrorists”. Under the changes, anyone suspected of preparing to hack or deface a website can be jailed for up to three years or fined up to five thousand US dollars. The ABC interviewed Dr Chee Soon Juan on the matter. Below is the transcript of the interview.
CHEE: It’s just another way that the government continues to use laws to restrict the growth of the internet, the use of the internet for democratic purposes and this is just another example of it.
LOPRESTI: And just how real though is that threat from cyber terrorism? Is it a rising threat?
DR CHEE: You know, you can work on some legislation to address the problem that you want to get at. But by coming up with laws that are so vague it allows this government to do almost anything. It’s just another way that this government wants to tell the people that look, we are watching and we will take action on people who want to try to use the internet to promote democracy in Singapore.
LOPRESTI: You say that these laws are vague, and in that vein I guess you could say that there is a very real possibility that the laws could be open to abuse?
CHEE: Yes. Let me take you back to 30 or 40 years ago when the Internal Security Act was first put in place. At that time, you know the government was saying that well, it was targetting the Communists. Well guess what? The law was repeatedly used on the ruling party’s opponents, legitimate opponents, opponents who were elected opposition MPs. For the last 20 to 30 years they have used it to crackdown on the democratic activists, people who want to see more freedom and human rights take place in Singapore. This is just another horrendous piece of legislation that will give this government even more unbridled power.
And there is absolutely no check and balance that we have here. I mean given the state of the opposition, given the dismal scene of democracy here in general it’s suicide for democracy if we continue on this manner.
LOPRESTI: So would you describe these laws as the internet version, I guess of Singapore’s Internal Security Act?
CHEE: Very much so. I think this has given the government a new lease of life if you will in as far as cracking down on internet activity, on people who genuinely want to push for a more democratic political change in Singapore. This government can use this as an excuse to do what it wants, to take whatever action it wants to continue to perpetuate its authoritarian control.
LOPRESTI: Now that these laws have been passed, realistically what can the opposition do?
CHEE: For us the debate here always goes on after the government makes the decision and, you know, given the state of democracy in Singapore it’s a complete laugh that we all make this pretence of having a debate when things are shoved down our throats. And the worst part of it is that we are unable, there’s no way we can hold this government accountable. And it doesn’t have to justify for any of its actions. It just goes ahead and does what it wants.
So really it doesn’t come as a surprise. Now we have this new law, but for us it doesn’t raise any eyebrows over here in Singapore.