Big brother policing Facebook

Straits Times Forum, 5 Dec 07

Police security checks conducted judiciously

I REFER to the letter from Mr Leow Zi Xiang, ‘Reader sees red over police reply’ (ST, Nov 28).

Police would like to assure the public that we conduct our security checks judiciously. During the Asean Summit, police conducted checks on about 140 persons seeking to enter the protected area around Shangri-La Hotel. Only about 20 were advised to leave. These decisions to check, advise or remove persons from the gazetted area were not made arbitrarily, but after careful appreciation of the situation.

According to our officer who first spotted him, Mr Leow was wearing a red football jersey, in the company of people wearing red T-shirts, the chosen colour of the Asean Summit protesters.

When he subsequently approached the protected area, the officer questioned him on his purpose in doing so. He said he was there for a walk but could not say where he was heading to. He insisted that he had a right to go wherever he wanted and was not able to give a satisfactory account of his presence there.

Mr Leow was then advised not to proceed further into the protected area. After he entered the area, he was turned away by police officers.

In his letter, Mr Leow asserts that police had impugned his integrity and suggested that he had not been completely honest in his account of events. He had portrayed himself as an innocent passer-by whom police had turned away just because he happened to be wearing a red football jersey.

However, the following fact showed otherwise. After Mr Leow’s letter was published, police were alerted by Internet users to the fact that he had declared openly on his Facebook page his intention to participate in an anti-Myanmar protest at the Shangri-La Hotel on Nov 19. The posting was accessible to all Facebook users.

Police will leave it to readers to come to their own conclusion about Mr Leow’s protest of innocence.

Audrey Ang (Ms)
Assistant Director (Media Relations)
Singapore Police Force

This is indeed a worrying admission: That the police are monitoring even the semi-private domain of Facebook. They cloaked it by writing that they were “alerted by Internet users” (read: we didn’t do it ourselves).

But how was this posting “accessible to all Facebook users”? It is (to my knowledge) not possible to see which “groups” a person is subscribed to unless you are his/her “friend”. I did a search on this guy, and it did show up a profile, but I can only send him a message, poke him, view his friends and add him as my friend.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

4 thoughts on “Big brother policing Facebook”

  1. I don’t think the Police are monitoring Facebook per se. ALL electronic data going into and out of Singapore passes through government computers. Facebook does not rely on encryption for posting messages or accessing the website. Therefore all data going to and from Facebook from a desktop in Singapore is open text for the government computers to scan and tag. Encryption software and it’s use is highly restricted by law in Singapore. They cannot stop you using it anymore than they can stop you jay-walking but if you get caught you can be punished.

    In this case I suspect data from this individual was tagged as subversive the moment he pressed submit to post it on Facebook. They knew who it was sending it and they knew it’s destination (Facebook). Technically the police are correct. They were tipped off. Not by a member of the public but by the controllers of electronic information.

    The level of big-brotherness that we are willing to put up and the degree to which we need it are very pertinent questions. Some countries would benefit from more of it and others could do with less of it.

  2. thebyleduct, Gerald,

    the answer is simple. Mr Leow’s friends, or one of them, people who can see his profile and read his posts, ratted on him.

    this could have been deliberate,as there are people watching Mr Leow, or the reporting could have been done out of concern, or naivete..whatever.

    one can control one’s level of privacy on facebook, and facebook has taken great lengths to protect privacy, after they were heavily criticised over the “advertising” shenanigans recently.

    so – moral of the story – choose your friends, esp on facebook, wisely! :-)


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