Government surveillance on citizens (MHA)

What safeguards are in place to ensure that surveillance on individuals, particularly Singaporeans, is done only for legitimate purposes, like security operations or criminal investigations? How is the data and intelligence protected to ensure that it is not misused or leaked by those who have access to it? Which of our laws authorise surveillance of individuals who are not targets of security operations or criminal investigations? And lastly, what independent oversight, like the Courts or Parliamentary Committees, are in place to guard against abuse?

Committee of Supply Debate, Ministry of Home Affairs, 5 March 2015

Mdm Chair,

In 2013, a scandal broke out in the US over reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been collecting telephone data of millions of its citizens, and had access to the servers of several technology companies, including Facebook and Google, to track their customers’ communications. The scandal soon widened to Europe when it was reported that GCHQ, the UK spy agency, had tapped fibre-optic cables carrying global communications data and shared it with the NSA.

Both governments justified this mass surveillance in the name of national security and insisted they were lawful. But many people were upset that they were unaware that their private communications were being monitored. Some questioned their legality and the insufficient oversight by their courts and legislature.

Singapore is a technologically advanced country which places a high priority on security. Singaporeans who have been following these developments in the US and Europe may be concerned that they may be subject to similar types of surveillance here. The Personal Data Protection Act governs the collection, use and disclosure of individuals’ personal data by organisations, but the Government is exempt from this Act.

I understand and agree with the need for some surveillance for legitimate security purposes to keep our country safe, but I have several concerns:

What safeguards are in place to ensure that surveillance on individuals, particularly Singaporeans, is done only for legitimate purposes, like security operations or criminal investigations?

How is the data and intelligence protected to ensure that it is not misused or leaked by those who have access to it?

Which of our laws authorise surveillance of individuals who are not targets of security operations or criminal investigations?

And lastly, what independent oversight, like the Courts or Parliamentary Committees, are in place to guard against abuse?

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.