Tech can be a tool for governments to exert control, experts say

Panel members at the Conference on Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures, held on Sept 25, 2019. The conference was organised by the Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
Panel members at the Conference on Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures, held on Sept 25, 2019. The conference was organised by the Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Technology has brought greater convenience, but governments can also use it to exert political control over many aspects of people's lives, said experts on Wednesday (Sept 25) at the Conference on Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures organised by the Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

For developments like smart cities, hard questions must be asked of where data collected by companies goes to, said Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Samantha Hoffman during a panel discussion on state actors and foreign interference tactics.

Citing China's social credit system as an example, she said: "The data filters into multiple products. So if you say something political on (Chinese messaging system) WeChat and it affects whether you are seen as an honest person... data is integrated into something that affects other aspects of your life."

Responding to an audience question on why Chinese technology company Huawei seemed to be excluded from international discussions on how to mitigate foreign interference, unlike United States tech giants Facebook and Google, Dr Hoffman said Chinese companies were constrained from cooperating due to domestic legislation, including state security laws.

Said European Values Centre for Security Policy director Jakub Janda: "We see what's happening in Canada... the Chinese government will be on your back."

He was referring to the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada last year, on fraud charges for misleading bankers about her company's dealings in Iran. China has since detained two Canadians on espionage charges and halted canola seed and pork imports from Canada.

Pointing out that "no normal commercial company" would warrant such a reaction from a state government, he said: "There are arguments for how Huawei is part of government infrastructure, and we don't want to be dependent on that.

 
 
 

"In most European countries, there is discussion about cyber-security agenices taking steps to address companies that pose such major risks."