Thursday, March 21, 2019

In 2001 ,the SBS and ABC were concerned about the Spore Govt's surveillance of the Internet-In 2019 the ABC and SBS are campaigning hard for Australia to do the same

by Ganesh Sahathevan

 The transcript below is from the SBS Dateline archives.It was reported by Sarah Ferguson who is now better known as the ABC 4 Corners anchor. 
The issue of Singapore's interest in Australian infrastructure interested SBS enough to air this story;ABC had a similar version which went to air later in the year on Lateline.

This story concerned the Singtel takeover of Optus ,and Singtel' s spying on its  customers in the name of national security
Today the SBS and ABC seen determined to have the internet policed, to ensure that nothing they deem offensive never gets to air.
The bleating about "online radicalization" and "white supremacists" is irrelevant. Singapore justified its surveillance on similar grounds, ie having to ensure  racial and religious harmony in a multicultural country.

Archives - April 11, 2001i
SingTel plays the spying game

To the world of telecommunications, 
and the proposed takeover bid for 
Optus. Last week, Defence Minister 
Peter Reith announced an investigation 
into the security implications of the 
deal proposed by SingTel, the majority 
state-owned Singapore 
telecommunications company.

If SingTel`s bid is successful, the
company will own satellites which
carry sensitive Australian military
information, a fact that has many in
the defence establishment concerned.
According to critics of the Singapore
Government and its human rights
record, SingTel and its methods 

warrant close examination. 


Going online in Singapore - a routine event in one of the most wired cities in the world.

DES BALL, STRATEGIC & DEFENCE CENTRE, ANU: But those same mechanisms are also used to monitor everything that those Singaporeans citizens listen to, and SingTel plays a very central role in that.

In 1999, Ann Lee, a student at the National University of Singapore, discovered the Home Affairs Ministry had hacked into her personal computer. Unusually for a Singaporean, she complained to the police. Their investigation showed she wasn`t alone - 200,000 computers, half of all Singapore`s Internet subscribers, had been secretly scanned. The Singapore telecommunications company, SingTel, claimed the whole operation was to look for a virus. Without telling their customers, they`d engaged Home Affairs to do the hacking.

DES BALL: These organisations in Singapore work extremely closely together - they`re not sort of compartmentalised like they are within Australia. SingTel, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Singapore Telecommunications Bureau, many of them are the same people. They move back and forwards, and on operations like that, they would work very, very closely together.

And now that company is bidding to take over Australia`s second-largest telco. There are obvious commercial advantages for Optus. But it`s the links between SingTel and a government regarded by many as intrusive, even repressive, that have caused questions to be raised about the bid.

RICHARD ALSTON, COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER: There will obviously be discussions to explore the nature and extent of the Singapore Government`s involvement, whether it`s an active or passive player, whether it directs the company in a way that we don`t do.

Last week, SingTel`s CEO, Brigadier General Lee Sien Yang, was in Sydney to talk up the deal.

BRIGADIER GENERAL LEE SIEN YANG, SINGTEL CEO: SingTel will be the leading regional telco. There will be no other telco with a footprint that is comparable to us.

Lee is part of Singapore`s ruling dynasty. He`s the son of the country`s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, and brother of Singapore`s present deputy PM. That may sound like nepotism, but the island`s rulers have never worried too much about appearances. Also prominent on the SingTel board is the present army chief of staff.

REPORTER: It`s been widely reported in Singapore that SingTel is used as a surveillance tool by the Singaporean Government, and particularly against opponents of the Singaporean Government. Is that true?

BRIGADIER GENERAL LEE SIEN YANG: I think you would understand in all countries, there are rules by the authorities for monitoring activities in relation to proper procedures, and clearly whether we are in Australia, whether we`re in the US or the UK or Singapore, there is due process for this and if the authorities deem that there`s a reason to do it, we have to obey the laws of the country.

REPORTER: So SingTel is used as a surveillance tool against political opponents of the Singaporean Government?

BRIGADIER GENERAL LEE SIEN YANG: I think that in any country, we`ll comply with the laws of country.

DES BALL: They actually lay out a variety of situations in which it is quite legal for them to do this, and when you add those situations up, it basically makes anything legal for them to do.

Despite the importance of the deal, there`s been little debate about it so far in Australia. By far the strongest criticism has come from dissidents who know what the Singapore Government is capable of.

FRANCIS SEOW, FORMER SINGAPORE SOLICITOR-GENERAL: You will be providing SingTel and the Singapore Government not only a window of opportunity, but I think the Singapore Government will have a very real say, in more ways than one, in what goes on in Australia.

Francis Seow may have earned the right to sound a little paranoid. He was an establishment figure, an associate of PM Lee Kuan Yew. As Singapore`s Solicitor-General in the 1980s, he was part of the system.

FRANCIS SEOW: I know that their surveillance did take place when I was solicitor-general, but I put it down to being all these official activities, you know - proper surveillance being carried out for security reasons.

The scales fell from his eyes when he started criticising the government in 1986 and became a target himself.

FRANCIS SEOW: I know that my office telephones were bugged; so was my home telephone. Confirmation of the fact came about when I was arrested and detained by the internal security department people and they told me exactly what, in fact, I said.

Charged with seeking US support for the opposition, Francis Seow spent the next 72 days in prison, with long periods of intense interrogation.

FRANCIS SEOW: It was an eye-opener, if you like, to find that all these years these vast powers, these arbitrary powers, had been misused by the government.

His family was also targeted.

FRANCIS SEOW: My son, his wife, his home was bugged and they followed him. They knew exactly what he was doing.

His son Ashleigh, also a lawyer, became active in the political opposition to the ruling party.

SINGAPOREAN NEWSCAST: Mr Ashleigh Seow spoke on town councils and how ordinary people can also run them.

ASHLEIGH SEOW: More than half of our society has got nothing to do with the government or the PAP. We ordinary Singaporeans do not need the PAP.

Eventually, though, both father and son went into exile. Ashleigh moved to Perth, but even in Australia, he says, the surveillance continued.

ASHLEIGH SEOW: On one occasion, somebody put photographs of my home and my car in my letterbox, which I interpreted to be a reminder or a tip-off, if you like, that the Singapore security services still considered me a Singaporean and a subject of interest for them.

Surprisingly, perhaps, he says SingTel would be unlikely to jeopardise its profits here by spying on Australians, but adds the takeover should be assessed on moral grounds.

ASHLEIGH SEOW: Morally, you might find it repugnant to deal with a company or with a government which systemically invades the privacy and human rights of its citizens.

The Optus CEO, Chris Anderson - who, to declare his interest, stands to make $10 million from the deal - says he doubts SingTel was ever used against the government`s critics.

CHRIS ANDERSON, CEO OPTUS: I doubt if it`s so. In fact, like all telecommunication companies - British Telecom, AT&T;, Telstra in Australia, and Optus, and I`m sure SingTel - we obey the law, and if there are various government requirements or surveillance requirements imposed by government, like any carrier, SingTel would carry them out.

But the Australian Defence Department has some specific security concerns. One of Optus`s most valued assets is its communications satellite. Through it passes not only international phone calls and internet traffic, but 70% of the Defence Department`s secret signals traffic.

DES BALL: This is of the utmost seriousness. This comes to the heart of the security of Australia`s telecommunications - not just the telephone calls of private citizens, but the most confidential, sensitive communications of Australian government authorities, which are now, potentially at least, at some risk.

BRIGADIER GENERAL LEE SIEN YANG: I think we have said that the satellites are a sensitive issue. We recognise it, and we will satisfactory the authorities to make sure that whatever arrangements that are in place today with Cable & Wireless as a shareholder would continue to remain so.

REPORTER: So are you currently talking to the Australian security and defence departments about those security issues?

BRIGADIER GENRAL LEE SIEN YANG: I think that`s an ongoing discussion which we`ll have. We believe that any concerns that they have, we`ll try and address them.

But the issue is also one of protecting sensitive technology. Optus and the Defence Department are building a new-generation satellite to be launched next year. The satellite will carry secure communications between Australian military ships and aircraft, monitored from the Optus earth station at Belrose.

DES BALL: The Optus C-series of satellites really is leading-edge, global, worldwide, leading-edge technology, particularly with the KU-band and X-band transponders, and there must be a very real fear that Singapore could do reverse technology engineering - in other words, there would be technology leakage.

REPORTER: In terms of the C-series satellite, which I understand is under construction in the US, given that that has such a large defence payload, doesn`t that offer some concerns to Australia about it coming under the management of a Singaporean government-owned company?

CHRIS ANDERSON: It won`t come under the management of anything. It comes under the management of Optus in arrangements with the Defence Department. But just as SingTel is majority-owned by the Singaporean Government, Telstra is majority-owned by the Australian Government, and they operate very well offshore. So it`s not an issue.

Brigadier General Lee will want to convince the Australian Government of just that, though he`ll have a harder time trying to argue that SingTel is free of government influence. Though Singapore might look like a bastion of free enterprise, the company that controls the island`s communications is 78% government-owned - a government which, according to Francis Seow, would have a real vested interest in the deal.

FRANCIS SEOW: Optus is actually a security industry, and it`s one of great use and benefit, advantage, to the Singapore Government.

It`s a view that puts a rather different light on SingTel`s catchy jingle.

TV ADVERTISEMENT: You`re ahead because you can always be reached, no matter how far. You`re ahead because you can speak straight from the heart.

Just don`t say anything you wouldn`t want Big Brother to hear. 


(Disclsoure: This writer was the researcher for the above story,having proposed it to SBS Dateline)

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