The Singapore population is “being conditioned to accept greater surveillance”, and such is why people must be wary of “the government spin machine whirring into action”, opined former Economist Intelligence Unit senior editor Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh.
Mr Vadaketh made his statement in response to an article published by TODAY titled “Why data, including those from TraceTogether, is vital in policing and keeping Singapore safe“, which was authored by cyber and homeland defence research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University.
In the article, Muhammad Faizal Abdul Rahman argued that the Government did not lie to the people when it previously assured that data from TraceTogether will not be used for any purpose other than contact tracing, as Section 20 of the CPC — which empowers the police to access specific data necessary for the investigation of crime — “has been around for many years and transparent to the public”.
“Rather, this episode shows the need for public agencies to improve policy coordination and observe its implications for public communications and trust.
“If there is an intent to lie, the Government would not make this clarification at all at the first livestreaming of Parliament,” the article read.
Drawing parallels between police CCTV cameras and TraceTogether, the article also argued that ubiquitous surveillance “is not necessarily intrusive or scary”, as “no CCTV data breach incidents or the police using data to violate people’s privacy” have arisen.
“But there are examples of police using CCTV data to keep people safe,” according to the author.
Individuals, he added, “become surveillance targets only if there are suspects in crime or security threat”.
“In a few cases where errant police officers committed unauthorised use of other data, the officers faced prosecution and punishment.
In a Facebook post on Friday (8 January), Mr Vadaketh quoted Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari who wrote for the Financial Times in March last year that “the epidemic might nevertheless mark an important watershed in the history of surveillance” as it “signifies a dramatic transition from “over the skin” to “under the skin” surveillance”.
“I would have had more respect for these institutions that sell the PAP’s right-wing views, including RSIS and TODAY, if they also consistently present the other side, if they offer commentaries that, in this case, warn about the dangers of surveillance, mission creep and government over-reach. Singaporeans deserve a diversity of views,” said Mr Vadaketh.
Mr Vadaketh referenced a video of his from June last year titled “The PAP’s useful idiots: RSIS and Michelle Chong”, in which he alleged how RSIS had published a falsehood and subsequently converted a PAP allegation about foreign interference into fact.
“Guess what? The author of that falsehood is the same author of this article on TraceTogether. Please read with a critical eye. Be wary of vested interests and agendas,” said Mr Vadaketh.
At the end of the article on TraceTogether, it was stated that Mr Faizal had previously worked in the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Singapore Police Force and the National Security Coordination Secretariat.
Mr Vadaketh noted in his video that in the RSIS commentary, published on 3 September 2019, it was said that Singapore was a target of foreign interference during the Cold War.
The article cited an event in the 1970s involving the Eastern Sun newspaper allegedly receiving funding from Chinese Communist elements to publish articles for the purpose of shaping political attitudes in Singapore.
It also stated that Singapore Herald newspaper had received funding from Southeast Asian elements to campaign against National Service.
“RSIS presented all this to the reader as fact, but they are not fact. They are allegations, even though many in the PA from LKY [Lee Kuan Yew] to Shan [K Shanmugam] have repeated these allegations, they have never been proven.
Many academics, including Singapore’s primary historian Mary Turnbull, have raised doubts about these allegations, said Mr Vadaketh.
“Thus, a scholar cannot present this to the reader as fact. You must say this is a PAP allegation that has been disputed by historians,” he said in the video.
Mr Vadaketh claimed that he had contacted both the author and editor, with the latter replying that it is a matter of “a difference of opinion”, to which Mr Vadaketh replied that they might be entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.
Mr Vadaketh said that he understands if scholars accidentally take the PAP at its word.
“However, if somebody points out your mistake, own up lah. Admit it. Make the correction. Move on,” he said, adding that such is “how the establishment helps the PAP transform allegations into fact”.
“Think about it, a scholar anywhere in the world now can quote this piece by RSIS and suddenly a newly-created fact would have spread around the academic world,” said Mr Vadaketh.