"Anonymity in cyberspace is an illusion. You will remember in 2007, we prosecuted three persons under the Sedition Act because of the blogs they put up which denigrated the religion of one of our communities in Singapore. " - Vivian Balakrishnan
"Aiyah. We know the gahmen knows given the amount our gahmen spend on cyberwarfare. Our anonymity is for our friends, parents and relatives not to worry about us lah!" - Lucky Tan.
When you post a message to a forum or blog, one or more IP packets are created and transmitted to carry your message. Within each IP packet is an IP address assigned to you by your ISP - Starhub or SingTel. This packet goes back to what you call routers in your ISP and they can log your IP address there. When your message reaches the server hosting the forum or blog, they will also log your IP address. Given we don't have many laws to protect privacy and our govt history of watching over the citizens closely, one cannot expect real anonymity on the Internet unless you make an extra effort(to use anonymisers, proxies etc). I would like to thank Vivian Balakrishnan for reminding us what we already know. Just to clarify, for many bloggers, our anonymity is to keep our friends, parents and relatives from worrying and not for any other purpose.
You see if we were the citizens of any other developed country, we would be happy to put our real names to our messages. But Singapore is not any other country, and there is this constant fear among a large segment of the population especially the older folks that the police/ISD will knock on our doors in the middle of the night when we say something unapproved. We all know that the chances of this happening is small given the govt is kept busy by the Chee siblings and various pesky members of the opposition who rank higher on their list of priorities. However, the older folks don't understand this and they will have sleepless nights worrying about the knock on the door and all it takes is one busybody tech savvy relative to tell them and they will nag you everyday to take the blog down. The disproportionate large number of highly articulate anonymous blogs is unique to Singapore because the fear has not disappeared....and not everyone is convinced that our govt is open to opposing views - it is not that bloggers don't want the govt to know, they don't want to keep their friends and families awake at night worrying about them. Those who are truly fearful will not even blog - they will just keep silent.
All this fear is not completely irrational. When Goh Chok Tong was PM, he spoke of a govt that will be consultative and open to new ideas. I remember that assurance he gave when Chee Soon Juan decided to embark on a career in opposition politics - he said that nothing will happen to Chee. For many it was a real sign that the govt had decided to change for the better. However, we soon discovered that what "nothing" meant. Chee was sacked, bankrupted, humiliated and jailed. ...he ended up with "nothing" and "nothing" did happen to him. Our govt's constant talk about regulating the Internet and its beliefs that human rights and democracy are flawed ideas and inferior to the PAP system of govt result in a fear that the PAP will simply go back to its old ways to preserved their system when the need arises.
For many other countries, handling the new media has been a piece of cake. President Obama embraced it...other govts live with it simply as an extension preserving the freedom of expression that already existed in their society before the Internet. The reason why the PAP has so much problems with the Internet is the need to perpetuated a dominant viewpoint - the PAP debates internally and simply tells us that what they are doing is the best for us i.e. for our own good. People now know that the PAP does not have a monopoly on wisdom (which they use to justify their high salaries) and they don't always make good decisions (on investment and other matters). There is limited debate parliament because the opposition has been weakened. So what do people do? Those who find it hard to remain silent go to the Internet to express their views at a great risk to themselves because their activities can be monitored and anonymity is an illusion. Wouldn't it be better for themselves if they simply remained silent and spend their weekend at Harvey Norman? Why take this great risk on the Internet to express their views? Many just want to get their views across quickly and to many people. If they go through the govt feedback channels or the MSM forums, their views would be managed away explained away and disappear along the channel. For many whose well being have been traded away in various policies and find they can no longer remain silent, they found a new media to express themselves and many are willing to take this risk of being monitored because they truly believe they are right and that change must come to Singapore for us to progress in the coming decades. Singapore was more democratic in the 1970s compared with S. Korea and Taiwan which were under military rule. Today, the S. Koreans & Taiwanese have no problems with the Internet and the PAP govt is still trying to find a way to cope with it. The best way to deal with the Internet is to make political progress and turn the Internet into a non-issue.
Govt says policies on new media will evolve as new challenges crop up
By Satish Cheney, Channel NewsAsia Posted: 21 February 2009 2044 hrs SINGAPORE :
The Singapore government has been embracing and even adopting new media for its work. And while it is still some way from fully tapping the potential, the government said it will gradually evolve its policies with a light touch, as the Web2.0 revolution constantly throws up new challenges. Singapore is the most wired city in the world. And according to a survey, young Singaporeans aged 15 to 24 spend an average of eight-and-a-half hours a day being connected. And the government has been using new media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube and forums to hook up with citizens. Another new media outlet is the OnePeople Portal. The online resource on racial harmony was launched by the Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Saturday. While the government is gradually liberalising its approach towards online engagement with its citizens, the minister added that one has to be responsible and careful when posting their thoughts online." Dr Balakrishnan said: "Anonymity in cyberspace is an illusion. You will remember in 2007, we prosecuted three persons under the Sedition Act because of the blogs they put up which denigrated the religion of one of our communities in Singapore. "The reason we did that was to send the message that your words have an impact; if need be, we can identify you, and if we have to, we will be prepared to prosecute you." But there are some challenges in the government's use of new media to get public feedback. Dr Milagros Rivera, member, Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS), said: "We expected people to give feedback. Nobody did. I think seven people posted comments on the AIMS website, and then the blogosphere went crazy with all kinds of comments and discussions about New Media. "You can have a very nice welcoming website for the government to give feedback. If people are not comfortable they will just stay in their little forums and in their blogs and they will do their thing." And there is no doubt more challenges will crop up as cyberspace continues to evolve and change the way people communicate with one another. - CNA/ms