Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong (Tong) has said that Singapore will consider new laws to counter foreign interference, as it is “especially vulnerable” to these exploits to stir up distrust and undermine its democratic processes. It is imperative to remember that as these sentiments are aired by Tong, the Singapore government is in the midst of controversies within both its defense and health departments. The recent death of local actor Aloysius Pang in reservice is still in public memory. Indeed, this untimely tragedy has refreshed public memory on the other deaths that have occurred during national service (NS). The fact that no senior member of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) or the Ministry of Defense (Mindef) has taken responsibility publicly is also not missed by Singaporeans who are keenly following the story.
Numerous Committees of Inquiry (COIs) have already been convened on previous NS deaths and yet, the deaths appear to continue. Given that NS is an issue that touches the lives of Singaporeans closely, the status quo is far from satisfactory.
In relation to the Ministry of Health (MOH), there has been a recent scandal where the HIV-positive status of 14,200 people – along with confidential information such as their identification numbers and contact details – has been leaked online by an “unauthorised person”. Before this saga, there was also the debacle of the private details of over 1.5 million Singaporeans (including those of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) were illegally accessed. In the face of these public inefficiencies, it is easy to point the finger at the hackers but what about the fact that our systems are so vulnerable to attack? Who takes responsibility for the affected parties whose private details have been leaked? To date, no one senior within MOH (just like in Mindef) has taken responsibility for the failures.
As these issues are still being discussed and remain unresolved, Tong has seen it fit to point the finger at the foreign bogeyman. Shouldn’t the government be trying to sort out the issues in its own backyard before bringing in the foreign villain complication? While the perpetrators may well be foreign, the issue at the heart of the issue is perhaps that we are not as well prepared to deal with cyber attacks to begin with. Why not take some internal responsibility for that oversight before rushing to enact more laws to prevent a speculated foreign interference?
Before complicating matters and introducing foreign elements and reams of new legislation, let’s go back to basics – it begins with the government taking ownership and responsibility.