NIAC Speaks On SingNet’s Privacy Blunder

The National Internet Advisory Committee (NIAC) chairman Thursday said that Singapore ISP SingNet has not approached the NIAC to certify that the ISP’s security scan of its 200,000 subscribers’ computers was not intrusive, and that NIAC is not in the position to make such a pronouncement.

This reiterates the point that SingNet is appealing to the wrong body, as mentioned by Wynthia Goh, one of the founders of a local Web site, SinterCom, in a recent Reuters report. The same source also said that the case should not be decided by the NIAC but rather by the courts.

“With regards to this incident, one will have to know the technical details of what happened before one can comment,” said associate professor Bernard Tan, chairman of NIAC.

He said the NIAC is not an executive body nor is it operational. He also said the NIAC is in no position to make a pronouncement as it does not provide technical advises.

“For SingNet to clarify [on this matter], it might be better if it actually get independent technical assistance, for example, it might want to do a technical audit,” he said.

SingNet said the scans have produced 900 cases of virus-infected computers of which the owners would be notified. The ISP also said the scans were done with the public’s interest in mind.

“Good faith and trust are very important in the building up of a culture in which the Internet can flourish and which people can use the Internet with confidence,” said Tan. “With the Internet being new, we understand that both ISPs and users need time to get acquainted.”

In NIAC’s advise to the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) on the Internet regulatory framework, the “light-touch” approach to the implementation of the Internet Code of Practice is recommended.

“We understand that when the letter of code is contravened, the recommending body doesn’t come down like a ton of bricks,” said Tan, “because infringement would largely be the result of ignorance or unfamiliarity [with the medium].”

“In the light-touch approach, we make the assumption that both ISPs and users by and large carry out their functions in good faith and trust,” he said.

Tan also said that privacy is intimately related to the state of the society, its culture, and the way it lives.

A May 4 report in The Straits Times has pointed out the need for a consensus on a national policy on the protection of electronic data and privacy that balances between individual privacy and national security.

“We have to ask ourselves what do we want to keep private for ourselves; and is that compatible with being efficient and modern with our pursuit of technology,” Tan added.

He also said that forsaking the Internet and technology is an option which Singapore cannot afford.

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