Michael Josem August 5, 2014 7:13 AM

I enjoyed watching Person of Interest too, but didn’t love it so much that I wanted to impose it upon a population:

“…It would gather up all manner of electronic records — emails, phone logs, Internet searches, airline reservations, hotel bookings, credit card transactions, medical reports — and then, based on predetermined scenarios of possible terrorist plots, look for the digital “signatures” or footprints that would-be attackers might have left in the data space…”

Winter August 5, 2014 8:15 AM

It is well known that the main threat to Singapore is the wish of it’s people to get involved with government. To protect against this threat, the Singapore governments have always insisted to silencing those interested in politics.

This is just an evolution of their methods to find those who might be interested in politics.

John August 5, 2014 8:47 AM

Singapore is a strange country. No-one talks politics and if you bring it up they promptly move on to another topic. People I talked to spend their time working and harmless leisure activities (mostly shopping). Protest is very rare and soon over. Even their students obey when told they can’t wear shorts in the library.
George Orwell would find it familiar.

PJ August 5, 2014 9:30 AM

When the government violates rights, such as free speech–even racist remarks–all citizens should become opponents of the government, which in Singapore, according to this essay, gives them “[something] to worry about.” Even hateful, seditious speech violates no one’s rights and should not be outlawed. How reasonable is it to expect the ‘right’ not to perceive the emotions and opinions of others?

Leonardo Herrera August 5, 2014 9:33 AM

I found the following commentary funny:

[M]any current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model for how they’d build an intelligence apparatus if privacy laws and a long tradition of civil liberties weren’t standing in the way.

Winter August 5, 2014 9:54 AM

@Leonardo Herrera
“I found the following commentary funny:

[M]any current and former U.S. officials have come to see Singapore as a model "

It is good to realize that Singapore is the model followed by the Chinese Communist party for the future of China.

Singapore is what the Chinese government aspires to. They should hang the picture of Lee Kuan Yew on Tien An Men square instead of Mao’s.

Daniel August 5, 2014 1:14 PM

I’ll always insist that the fly in the ointment is believing that what works for small homogenous populations will work with large heterogeneous populations. One way to think about this issue is to realize that purity can only exist in isolation or in part. Human beings as a species are simply to diverse in the aggregate to be managed in such a fashion–in isolated populations such as the military, OK–in large meta-scale populations, never. Another way to think about it is to realize that the Asian projection of “harmony” is the harmony of white bread. To use the proper musical terms, lots of Asians use the word “harmony” but in fact what their music reveals is not harmony at all but “drone”.

Frank Wilhoit August 5, 2014 1:33 PM

O sing a song of Singapore,
Where life is such a crashing bore
That bureaucrats must while the days
By fingerprinting dogs;

And Government (in full control)
Can ding you for each foot you roll
And issue electronic shoes
To everyone who jogs.

But I, for one, will not believe
In any progress they achieve
(No matter what great strides they make
In registering cats)

Until they have a census done
And checked (down to the smallest one)
Of all that island paradise’s
Roaches, snakes, and rats.

(Written as long ago as 1992, in reaction to a couple of news wires about road tools collected by proximity sensors mounted on bridges and the national database of pet noseprints.)

vas pup August 5, 2014 2:16 PM

Is it really possible to have democracy, human rights AND social benefits together (in other words political and social rights together) or they are mutually exclusive? I guess Singapore is extreme (on a positive side: iron laws there applied uniformly – no double standard), but e.g. Finland provide both. And looks like movement is towards cut on both for the population. By the way, what about health care in Singapore?

jdgalt August 5, 2014 8:31 PM

I found nothing new here; indeed, the article was noticeably and almost totally lacking in specifics. Nothing about just how much personal life is regulated; very little about the criminalization of dissent (though I’ve been hearing for decades how the system will arrest and systematically destroy the career of anyone who runs for office against the ruling party, often by trumping-up charges of sexual misconduct); not even numbers on the crime rate, or how much it may or may not have changed since the imposition of surveillance.

All of which is just what I would expect from Foreign Policy. I don’t know what it is about the CFR that attracts the most naive audience in the world, but they do.

Wesley Parish August 5, 2014 9:13 PM

Confucianism, writ large. That’s the political and cultural traditions it’s riffing off.

The problem is that Confucianism mandates the replacement of a government when that government fails to fulfill the needs of its people: “fails the mandate of Heaven”. Which is incidentally the one thing that genuinely terrifies the Chinese Communist Party.

AlanS August 5, 2014 10:05 PM

More interesting reading based on the Kindle sample: Authoritarian Rule of Law: Legislation, Discourse and Legitimacy in Singapore

There’s a lengthy review and discussion here. The author of the above review also writes about his own experience with the courts in Singapore that reads like something written by Kafka.

@Wesley Parish

“Confucianism, writ large. That’s the political and cultural traditions it’s riffing off.”

British traditions that are being twisted.

adrian August 5, 2014 10:23 PM


What you say is grossly inaccurate. Is the Singapore i know the same one you think you know?


“Even their students obey when told they can’t wear shorts in the library.” Where did you get that from?!?! i’m not sure who did you talk to, but vast majority of Singaporean i talk to has a lot to say about politics 😉

Winter August 6, 2014 12:27 AM


What you say is grossly inaccurate. Is the Singapore i know the same one you think you know?”

I know next to nothing about Singapore.

I wrote that those in power in China want to emulate the success and style of Singapore. The most visible part is the combination of economical “freedom” and political “lock down”. They are obviously still far from having reached that level. But the ideas seem to be there.

China even has copied the Singapore version of Confucianism.

Thoth August 6, 2014 1:20 AM

Hello Bruce Schneier and fans,
Welcome to Singapore, a heavily locked down nation with national infrastructure built around the concept of caging and taming the people within from embracing the liberal ideologies of the Americans.

If you ever pay Singapore a visit, please do get comfortable with street cameras every 1.5 meters away and our superior train service (with massive amounts of cameras concealed and in the open) with our comfortable bus services with cameras in every corner would defend your safety.

Singapore is considered the most peaceful nation in the world due to the laws that govern us so effectively to the point all citizens are required to take “Civil Education” lessons in primary and secondary schools singing the praises of the past and present “heroes”. From young, we are brought up to fear the law and never question nor given the chance to properly debate or make decisions.

Those whom have presented contradicting views or who dare question the legitimacy and purity of our leaders would face severe lawsuits and punishments.

Among us, we have rare cases of incidents where people step out of their line by expressing their countering ideologies and they were immediately hauled to court without questions and ruled as traitors of the state. Some of us have fled from the confines of this iron caged city nation to take up residence somewhere and never to step back into the iron cage island in fear of persecutions. Those who have fled the iron cage may have been subjected to media campaigns too and depicted as traitors.

In this caged city, we have an interest in further restricting the freedom of our people and if you experts here can fulfill our requirements (, we will praise you privately, copy you and you have no more use for us and you wont get a single cent from us because we want to horde more money. We will just reverse engineer your hardwork and use it for ourselves and resell it to others at a high price while you get not a single cent from us.

Although the citizens of the iron caged city are allowed to freely use 9999 bits Serpent cipher, 65535 bits of RSA and 9999 bits of ECC without government restrictions, but upon demand and without reason required, you have to fully decrypt and hand over everything including the keys whenever a person waves a blue colour card with a national logo at you.

Please feel comfortable with our surveillance as it’s for your own benefits that we monitor everyone and predict the possible future. Stepping out of line would spoil our image as a peace loving iron caged nation and we do not tolerate people who attempt to spoil our “peace”.

Oh and by the way, those that are in power here will always want to be in power. They do not tolerate free speech as it will ruin their power positions 🙂 .

AlanS August 6, 2014 8:28 AM


“…from embracing the liberal ideologies of the Americans.”

Since at least the early 1980s America has been dominated by neoliberal ideologies which are very different from classic liberalism.

vas pup August 6, 2014 9:40 AM

Are all those liberties and ‘rule of law’ tools or goal? E.g. Buthan set as a goal happiness for most of population. I guess freedom itself which provides prosperity and happiness just for small chunk of population not majority is not the alternative to Singapore model.

Good Sam August 7, 2014 7:08 AM

Off-topic but important: new free service from FireEye and Fox IT
If your system is infected with CryptoLocker, upload one encrypted file (non-sensitive) to their website, they will figure out the decryption key and e-mail it to you. Then you can unlock all your files.

Also, free program CryptoPrevent is designed to block CryptoLocker

So, does CryptoLocker do a poor job of choosing passwords, or is there a flaw in their implementation of the encryption?

AlanS August 7, 2014 10:54 AM

@vas pup

Rule of law is usually a constraint on executive power (e.g. Entick v Carrington, 1765); here it seems to be a tool to expand power and stifle dissent (e.g. Singapore’s graffiti law discussed in the book cited above). This is of course a current debate with regards to surveillance in the US (see here, for example): are the courts there to do the bidding of the executive or to check executive power?

Modern American liberalism is no liberalism at all. American neoliberalism (i.e. mostly the Chicago School wing of the Mont Pelerin Society) is an ideology in which all human activities are understood as ‘market’ phenomena. This is quite different from the social-political theory you will find articulated by classic liberal thinkers like Adam Smith, although neoliberals deceptively claim Smith as a founding father through systematic misrepresentation. Smith had a fairly skeptical view of both business people and government. Wealth of Nations is a critique of mercantilism– trade in the service of the state. For Smith it was important for the two spheres of politics and economy, as they then existed, to be kept at arms length from each other because the planned economy didn’t work  well and the collusion between the two is never good (you can extract the latter point from Eisenhowser’s farewell speech i.e. the MIC is a collusion of the two against civil society). And there are other spheres of social relationships outside of both. Like Hume and other Scottish philosophers of the time, Smith was not an ideologue or prone to utopian social fantasies. The same can not be said of neoliberals. Neoliberalism inverts the mercantile relationship by making the state service the market. They claim to be against government but in practice they believe in strong intervention at a certain level in order to create and maintain the conditions of the market (this includes the security apparatus that protects against threats to the market). The market for them is a natural phenomena but also a created phenomenon (one contradiction among many in neoliberal thinking).  When you look at the big picture neoliberalism involves a massive expansion of state power. But the latter is hidden because  state functions (like everything else) are subsumed by the market. Many functions are ‘privatised’ to this end (e.g. the NSA now spends most of its budget on contractors).  And while neoliberals spend a lot of time talking about individualism and freedom, they have extremely impoverished notions of both. It’s a world in which individuals are market actors, freedom is being able to act within  ‘the market’, personhood is the enterprise of the self, and corporations have the legal status of individuals. Neoliberalism is what the Sheldon Wolin labels  ‘inverted totalitarianism’. It’s much more subtle and sophisticated than both communism  and socialism (and more pleasant, at least for some, for a time) but it’s just another road to a different type of serfdom. 

Steven August 7, 2014 12:22 PM

The million-dollar apartment sounds particularly good. Add to that very low unemployment, apparently low crime and homicide rates, perhaps best-in-the-world education, healthcare and public transport infrastructure.

How is surveillance in the Five Eyes countries working out for you, do you get a good return for your sacrificed freedom, or otherwise who benefits? And what would your price be, to give up everything?

Bob S. August 7, 2014 3:12 PM

I don’t know much about Singapore, so I did some research.

It is one of the wealthiest nations on earth!

Literally, one in six households are millionaires. Their median income is higher than the USA @ >$54k/yr.

The country is a vast INDUSTRIAL and OIL powerhouse. It is ranked as one of easiest places on earth to do business. Their favorite pastimes are eating and shopping.

Their government is western based parliamentarian, yet with the eastern Buddist influence.

Folks Singapore is about the money and that’s maybe why they put up with their own version of GHCQ on steroids…can’t be bothered while riding around town in the BMW. Life under Big Brother is OK if you are rich.

I could easily see the USA and England morphing into a similar police state, minus the rich part, however.

Based on what I read about Singapore, the USA is in exceptional trouble.

Thoth August 7, 2014 7:50 PM

@Bob S.
The wealth that you have found does not belong to the people. They belong to a select elite of super wealthy so that when you add the total gross average, it would look as though everyone is wealthy but in fact most of us work for 3/4 of our life into old age and we are still trying to work so hard even at the age of 70. Retirement does not stop at old age as you will notice this huge trend of the Government encouraging old people to continue working and most of us work until our last breath just to make a living for our families.

To correct your quote:” Their government is western based parliamentarian, yet with the eastern Buddist influence.”

We have a Western leaning Government with the thinkings of Eastern culture due to our roots in the East. Most of us here have our ancestry in the East (especially the huge Chinese population here).

The previous post I posted have a link to our current defense interest which surrounds people surveillance similar to the current goals of GCHQ and NSA. We have a variety of civilian owned defense institutions that are Government owned but the governance are in the control of selected civilians instead of by Generals or Admirals like the NSA or GCHQ. In fact these defense institutions run by civilians were actually retired Generals and Admirals if you read their history who after retiring from their military career, they enter into the local defense industry and given Director/CEO/Chairman jobs in a civilian context.

Such an industry is called a Defense Statutory Board or a.k.a Defense Stat Board in our local way of saying … working for the Government. We have Defense Science Organisation (DSO), Defense Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), Centre for Strategic Infocomm Technologies (CSIT – Kinda like your NSA but in ‘civilian defense stat board format’) and our Infocomm Development Authoritty (IDA) controls the IT deals and contracts. We have multiple civilian Defense Stat Board if you notice (via their names) and all of them have the single goal of providing for the Government and the military. The CIA, NSA, FBI and other 3 letter US agencies have their internal little squabbles but our agencies rarely have those squabbles as the Government makes the final decisions and keep them very focused and it’s rather miraculous that our agencies are somehow very orderly in-line with the Government probably due to our upbringing and mindsets set into our brains from a very young age (to listen and obey and never question orders).

In the face of massive surveillance in Singapore, the Singapore Government have somehow managed to smolder and ease the impact of surveillance (the people here are still oblivious of it’s impact and happily allow it to happen) because of the mindset of never to question power inserted into us since birth. Most of us here consider privacy and security tools as a secondary thought and are willing to allow agent intrusions if it meant they have lesser to answer to the powers.

Many of the ITSec/Infocomm companies here are doing business with the Government and our MIC and Defense Stat Boards as their key goal rather than to promote the security of individuals first so the balance between the power of the people and Government have a wide gap and the knowledge of individual privacy and security suffers in the light of stronger Government intrusions and surveillance and people here continuing to be ignorant for the need of personal privacy and security.

In regards to “I could easily see the USA and England morphing into a similar police state, minus the rich part, however.”

We are also coming to that stage as inflations are growing faster and the actual rich people are the super elites here that blanket the reality on the ground.

We are no better than you…. the only difference is that our minds are being numbed to “pain of lost of privacy” since birth so we dont particularly feel it’s effects …. until they come after one of us for our opposing and critical views ….

Thoth August 7, 2014 7:56 PM

@Bob S.

In regards to:”Their favorite pastimes are eating and shopping.”

It is one of the habits we have learnt from the East. Eating is considered a good fortune in Chinese believe system and Shopping is a good fortune in both East and West. That is a pain numbing and distracting method.

We have numerous shopping malls and food centers / street hawkers littered every 10 meters and every corner you turn there are shops and food. You can never go hungry if you have money on you.

Singapore is a food haven (which is correct) and food is used as a uniting factor to cover our differences and also a numbing factor. Once someone brings up the topic of food (all the bad stuff simply and magically disappears). In a way, we cope with stress and pain using food (which may not be healthy to the body and mind if we continually ignore pains by being distracted). Food is smoke bomb.

Nick P August 7, 2014 11:55 PM

@ Thoth

So you are a citizen of Singapore. At first, I wasn’t sure as the post might have been merely mocking their surveillance state and abuses. Seeing your second post, I hope you make it despite their surveillance and I appreciate your inside perspective on that country. I’ve always had trouble forming an opinion on them due to almost all perspectives sounding like marketing material (and mostly by outsiders). Particularly, the super-low corruption and great for all businesses claims.

Buck August 8, 2014 12:12 AM


We are no better than you…. the only difference is that our minds are being numbed to “pain of lost of privacy” since birth so we dont particularly feel it’s effects …. until they come after one of us for our opposing and critical views….

As an American, I see this more as a similarity than a difference… :-\

Clive Robinson August 8, 2014 2:23 AM

@ Nick P,

Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security about Singapore. It might appear to be a hang over from the pre WWII British Colonial rule but it’s not. That gentility is for the tourists and whilst the traditional crime most people come across in the west is low in Singapore, many other crimes abound.

You are more likely to have an “evil maid” attack there than in China or Russia, and “honey pot prostitution” is rife (Singapore has colonial sex legislation codified 130yeas ago “s 377” that would leave most westerners open to prosecution or the threat of it, punishment of which includes not just significant monetary fines but physical punishments such as canning etc).

Singapore might appear a great place for conferences and trade shows, but the hidden price is economic espionage which feeds the coffers of the select few.

We used to joke about Taiwan and coined the phrase “Chinese knock offs” about them. Well the thinking process behind it is endemic in the east asian mindset where Confucianism is the way of life. They do not see the taking of ideas, thoughts and processes as crimes, in much the same way as the US did up untill the early 1900s. The one East Asian country that has thought about it at some point is South Korea and they have quite severe statutory punishments for business and economic espionage. When you talk to senior Korean businessmen they will warn you about Singapore and what it gets upto, how and to a certain extent why.

Remember that whilst you see the footprint of British Colonial Rule in many parts of the world, that in nearly every case it was started by rapacious British adventurers / businessmen who then engineered the politics (often via the French). That is Britain’s major export to the world was naked greed and exploitation, and easily purchased political position and favour backed it up. And as always what goes around comes around in these things.

The US is currently involved in trade negotiations around the world and they are trying a new tack on Colonial Rule, all the treaties are having the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) [1] built in, supposedly to protect foreign investors IP etc. However in practice it’s main use appears to be to overturn local legislation (like Australia’s plain wrapping for tabacco legislation [2]) by US corps and conglomerates. The result is that the USs behaviour has caused many trade talks to become stalled as the “hidden agenders” gets increasing publicity.

As Australia and the EU has pointed out there is little reason why existing legal redress mechanisms can not be used by foreign investors in mature and open democracies and further international agreaments should not be used to grant foreign investors greater rights than domestic investors or rights over legitimate national legislation passed by a democratically elected government.

The counter point is the state compliant courts of the likes of Singapore, China, Taiwan and other countries (including the US) means that foreign investors need such protection. Although many regard the — supposed — independent arbitration of the World Bank to be anything but.



Thoth August 8, 2014 5:19 AM

@Nick P
Having tasted and knowing the taste of “benevolent dictatorship” and seeing most people ignorant of their rights, here, it’s close to the perfect North Korea except we have a little bit more moving room.

Thanks for your concern.

@Clive Robinson
There is no need for an “evil maid” attack in Singapore. It’s too fanciful. Full warrantless arrest and retention already existed since the founding days (1965). The operations here do not require much bug implants as well because our dear Telecomms providers are Government run and Government owned. People whom are very close to those in power will get the top job of running the Telecomms, the Government’s Investment and Monetary arms, the Defense sector … almost everywhere important to the nation’s infrastructure are permeated by their own people. Evil maid is simply impractical and too cumbersome when you can produce a blue colour identity card with the national logo on it and demand your encryption keys, passwords, data, everything ! If they want to bug you, they would just need to flash their warrant cards and walk right to your computer and bug it right in front of you and you can’t do anything about it. If you try to de-bug it, it’s against the law anyways.

@Nick P and Clive Robinson
If you remember the USB post, I kept bringing up specific topics. As a security conscious person working in a comm security industry, it’s rather discomforting to know that security is not for everyone and it’s limited to those who can have access to them (with resource and time).

Currently, the Government’s IT arm are moving quickly to uniting the people of Singapore’s online authentication under the TR-29/National Authentication Framework a.k.a NAF( especially via the OneKey solution ( I can’t imagine the consequences where by using a single framework, users maybe tracked although the marketing says it’s for single sign-on security. If the NAF succeeds, it will turn into an island wide tracker disguised as a security for the citizens. This NAF would also become the one weak link to defeat the national security since it is attempting to become the single point of “defense” and single point of failure. Not to forget, our current nation wide single sign-on system recently fell to hacking (possibly phishing attack) which the Government is trying to strength via the use of the introduction of the OneKey and NAF (–ida-153558211.html).

Talk about a surveillanced state, now the online activities, bank logins and Government ePortal logins if successfully merged with the NAF and OneKey solution would generate a ton of vulnerable loopholes and surveillance data. And not to mention, I am skeptical of the expertise and viability of the implementors of this NAF and OneKey…. very skeptical….

Imagine a single sign-on with single framework is like a gene pool of a single strain versus a gene pool of multiple variants. Which would be more susceptible to attack and to spying ?

Clive Robinson August 8, 2014 6:51 AM

@ Thoth,

I know Singapore uses Evil Maid against foreign visitors in the technology sector because we caught them at it. We expected it and found it quickly and painlessly via a credit card CDROM which had a baby linux on it and full crypto checksuming and one or two other little goodies such as a full file list including start and end sectors as well as the real and sector sizes and checksums for both. As well as a little gizmo that set the HD swap space up in a particular way, so we know they booted into windows to do what they did.

We don’t know who precisely placed the software onto the laptop but we know to within two hours “clock time” of when it was done (though HD file system times appeared as last boot time or OS install time). The software was a variation of Zeus that was unknown to AV software of the time. So it might have been standard industrial espionage but the behaviour of hotel staff indicated that it was a well practiced behaviour that they were in on. Thus the authorities are more likely to “fit the frame”. I can only assume from what you say that who ever it was wanted to be covert about it as it was a foreign national who was only there for a few days at a trade show and they did not want the malware found once the laptop was out of the country.

As it was we were expecting it and had thus set the trap, which they sprung. We do know that what they got when the laptop was back in the UK was not a lot of use to them as no real work related stuff (other than stuff going into advertising bumph) went on it before the HD was removed and fully sanitized. Only two attempts were made to connect the laptop which was run only on it’s own network, before the laptop was reimaged and sold on to a customer as part of some harmless system for controling equipment.

These days that company does not take standard IT equipment abroad and uses more interesting ways to communicate back to HQ when abroad. Youl’d be surprised what you can do with a modified games console you keep in your pocket at all times.

Clive Robinson August 8, 2014 7:17 AM

@ Thoth,

With regards NAF, there are a number of areas where it could go horribly wrong, both socialy and technicaly.

Taiwan has it’s own citizen card that has both social and technical issues.

I’ll let you look up the social issues on the Internet, however one of the technical issues was quite serious,

nod August 8, 2014 7:48 AM


Evil maid is necessary to assure the customer doesn’t know he’s a customer, and carrys on whispering secrets with his boss while you listen in.

If you’ve been given a warrant and your system hacked before your eyes, it changes your behavior (you’re unlikely to make a secret call home). If you use good end-to-end encryption the telcomm people can only see where you connect (home office, no surprises there), not what you send, but with evil maid implanted software the bug is at the clear end and they get all the juicy bits. But as Clive pointed out, they only get what you let them have, if you know they’re doing it, and clever forensics can prove the misbehavior.

Thoth August 8, 2014 7:48 AM

@Clive Robinson
Sorry to hear that you were on the receiving end of covert BlackOps here. It’s ashamed that such things are on-going on a seemingly fully developed country. I have not seem any Government benefits to our industry sector via intel collection / Evil Maid tactics as most of the IT sector here are very predictable in their products. The only think I can think of is the Government’s own benefits from local spying efforts and probably the local defense stat boards (I mentioned in previous post) can use the data to develop similar technologies and sell them to defense agencies across the globe while branding it a Singapore product. We may have knowingly violated weapons design and sold them off to poorer countries for money (via the Singapore defense stat boards and investment arms of the Government), thus copying defense technologies that was possibly inside your laptop trap and then repackaging and selling them off and/or using it personally was one of their favourite plans.

I am guessing the warrant card method would probably be effective against citizens but for foreigners and diplomats (not to trigger international disputes with other countries), the evil maid might be the preferred way.

Glad to know you guys got away fine without harm.

I was reading about the NAF framework and my security alarms went off as I knew nothing good would ever come out from these systems as history have proven.

I am aware of the problems Taiwan’s citizen cards are facing (weak randomness of their RSA keys were found at one point in time). Thanks for the paper.

South Korea is known for it’s national login for online activities (not sure if it’s true) which i assume is problematic as well.

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