Asia being snooped on, too
Spying by foreign intelligence agencies is also prevalent in Malaysia and other regional countries via the Internet or spying equipment located in embassies.
SO last week it was the turn of Asians to learn that their region was also the subject of foreign spying.
This was no surprise. If American intelligence is spying on Americans, on Latin Americans, and on Europeans (including its top political leader, Angela Merkel of Germany), it is a foregone conclusion that Asia would not be left out.
There is no revelation yet that Asian prime ministers and presidents have had their personal mobile phones and e-mails tapped.
But it is also a foregone conclusion that these things are happening. Be prepared, therefore, to read in the coming weeks about famous Asian leaders, opposition stalwarts, journalists and celebrities being the subjects of snooping.
Nevertheless, the news that American and Australian embassies are being used to snoop on Asian countries justifiably caused outrage in our region. The Australian surveillance is reportedly in cooperation with the United States.
Malaysia is one of the places where Australian intelligence operates to spy, according to reports in the Der Spiegel and Sydney Morning Herald. They revealed that the spying takes place from the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
Other Asian countries where the intelligence collection is conducted is the Australian embassies in China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea.
The news reports also revealed that the US embassies have also been conducting surveillance activities in many Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Malaysia last Friday registered its protests in official notes handed to the Australian High Commissioner and the US Deputy Chief of Mission who were summoned to Wisma Putra. The notes warned that surveillance of close friends could severely damage relations.
Indonesia warned the United States and Australia that the continuation of surveillance facilities inside their embassies threatened to derail years of trust built up between countries.
China also responded to the report that the American embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and Chengdu operated special spying facilities.
Its Foreign Ministry has demanded an explanation from the United States, saying that “foreign entities must not in any form engage in activities that are incompatible with their status and that are harmful to China’s national security and interest”.
Also last Friday, Brazil and Germany introduced a draft resolution to a United Nations General Assembly committee calling for an end to excessive surveillance.
The press reports on spying in Asian countries are based on information leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency.
Newspapers and magazines had previously revealed that the personal phones of the German chancellor and the Brazilian president had been tapped. Both leaders have registered protests directly to US President Barack Obama.
Last week also saw revelations by the Washington Post that the US and British intelligence agencies had found a way of intercepting communications from Google as well as Yahoo as the data were being passed between their data centres.
“We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone,” said Google’s chief legal officer.
The Internet giant companies have found that their encryptment system protecting e-mail and other information flowing through its data centres is not secure after all.
The technology companies are worried that their millions of customers will no longer trust that their privacy will be protected.
How will this affect the use of browsing, e-mail, Facebook and other facets of the Internet technology?
US companies and entities currently dominate the global Internet business. Much of the world’s flow of data go through Internet companies based in the United States.
The US administration had projected itself as an honest host of the Internet centres, respecting the rights and privacy of the world’s Internet and e-mail users, and a champion of Internet freedom.
That image has been shattered by the series of revelations emerging from Snowden’s leaked files. The opposite image has replaced it, of a government that has used high technology to gather billions of bits of data on practically all Internet users.
If counter-terrorism was the official reason, this now seems to be only a pretext for also spying on any important person, including one’s closest allies.
Now that they have lost confidence that the United States or other countries will respect privacy of the politicians, companies and citizens of their countries, some governments are now planning to limit the reach of American-based Internet companies.
The Financial Times reported that Brazil is planning regulations that would force technology companies to retain information on the Internet about its citizens and institutions within Brazil itself.
It also said that European officials are discussing the need to have stronger cloud computing capabilities in Europe to protect their citizens’ privacy.
Brazil is also planning to bring up in various UN agencies and fora the need for a global framework to respect and protect privacy on the Internet.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
1. USA Spying, the Super-Snooper !
2. NSA secretly hacks, intercepts Google, Yahoo daily
Malaysia views spying seriously
This is because it can cause relations between Malaysia and these countries, long established based on trust and sincerity, to be tense.
“I believe if this (spying) is not fully explained, our long-established good relations can be adversely affected. Therefore, we need a full explanation on the extent of the spying activities and for what purpose.
“Tensions can be avoided if the allies involved uphold the trust and sincerity in their relations with Malaysia,” he said.
Hishammuddin said this to reporters after attending a Deepavali open house hosted by Johor Unity and Human Resources Committee chairman R.Vidyanathan here yesterday.
The spying issue arose following media reports on the claim made by intelligence informant Edward Snowden that the United States had 90 electronic surveillance facilities throughout the world, including at its embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
In light of this, Hishammuddin wanted a detailed explanation on the matter as such activities could threaten Malaysia’s security and its other interests.
The US ambassador to Malaysia, Joseph Y. Yun, was reported to have explained on the spying claim to Wisma Putra.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Yun had stated that all surveillance activities by the United States throughout the world were specifically for security, to detect threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
On his trip to China last month, Hishammuddin said it was aimed at enhancing cooperation in the area of defence, especially through joint exercises, exchange programmes involving navy and other military officers, establishing cooperation between the defence industries of both countries, and efforts to combat terrorism and transnational crime.
Meanwhile in Yan, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said they would arrest any foreign diplomat found to be involved in spying activities.
“We will not hesitate because spying is a threat to the country’s sovereignty. In the 1980s, we have arrested foreign diplomats involved in spying activities.
“We will do the same again if there is proof of such activities,” he told newsmen after a briefing on the Sungai Limau by-election at the Yan police headquarters yesterday.
- The Star/Asia News Network Monday Nov 4, 2013