The (watch)men in white

Among those of us who were more active in gay rights in Singapore in the earlier days, we used to joke about how we could always ask the internal security dept (ISD) for our emails if they ever got lost or deleted. It was somehow a known assumption then that the government has been monitoring our activities and correspondences. Moles and attempted infiltration to keep the government aware of what is going on is probably a common theme. We, of course, know that whenever that is a large gathering, clueless plainclothes polices were sent to spy on us, often being singled out very quickly or having to endure long talks about gay sex (perhaps) or relationship or worst still gay poetry and art!

One of the joke in the gay email list SiGNeL was that we should all sign off our postings with “LKY”. The purpose was so that every posting gets captured by the ISD and the poor intelligence people have to read through all of our postings to find out that it has nothing to do with “LKY” other than the signature. This will certain keep them very busy!

It was a few years later that confirmed what we suspect was true. You see, one of my friend at time was working for ISD on software to monitor, I believe, forums or email lists. One day, we went out for some drinks and he mentioned to me in a lowered voice that he saw my email address in their system. I was pretty happy when I heard that, because it confirmed what we knew all along.  The security dept have various software targeting online forums, blog postings, emails, websites and whole set of contents out there, even your text messages. Being a technical person, I know that all these are not difficult to construct, in fact most people don’t realize it, but their emails are still being sent in plain text to one another in the internet. This is not a bad thing per se because we do need these capabilities to keep Singapore and its citizens save from attacks from unpleasant people or organizations.

I was never angry nor fearful of such things, because I knew that I only had the interests of Singapore in my heart and we had operated so long without much intervention from the security department. What I was pissed at is the fact that being a gay activist, the government automatically label me as a security threat. I couldn’t fathom the reason for this for quite a long while, but now I seem to get it.

You see, the PAP government sees security threats in two ways; those that threaten the lives of Singaporeans and those who threaten the power of the PAP. Being a gay activists, we are involved in getting people see through the norms imposed by society and the fear to challenge the government on its status quo. Any civil movement activists in this sense will be a security threat to the PAP government, because they are asking people to think for themselves and be able to challenge the existing system for it. This is, of course, unthinkable for the PAP government.

And there lies the danger of having a single party so dominant for so long; there is no clear separation of power between the party and the government. Bills and laws are passed in favor of helping PAP keep in power while disadvantaging the opposition parties or dissenting voices. The government and police force cannot tell at difference between serving and protecting it citizen from serving and protecting PAP’s power. Even the election department and  the judiciary becomes a tool for the PAP to maintain their dominance.

I long to see a day when civil servants and the police are able to understand that their role is towards the citizens of Singapore, serving and protecting them from threats, fear and harm, even if its coming from the PAP.

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4 thoughts on “The (watch)men in white

  1. Thanks for the insider confirmation of the government’s practice of email snooping.

    Great read on the whole, but I’d have to disagree with you that having our emails is read is for our own good. Anyone with serious intentions of “attacking” us would probably avoid plain text communications in the first place.

    • I think there are no government in the world that doesn’t snoop on its citizens or foreigners or even foreign countries. What I meant is that the ability to snoop at least shows that we have capabilities of recognizing threats before the occur, although we know of instances that the government seems to have failed, like the Yishun MRT incident. Perhaps the PAP government was spending more time snooping on its political enemies than threats to Singapore! I don’t mean to say that its a good thing to have our emails snooped; I think its an abuse of power to do that on harmless citizens doing good for Singapore.

      My point about emails being sent as plain text was more to meant that anyone with the right equipments can snoop on emails in the internet, let alone the government. Most of us tend to take for granted the emails between individuals are private.

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