Government segregating secure systems, not cutting off Internet access for civil servants: Vivian Balakrishnan

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. PHOTO: MFA

WASHINGTON - The move to stop Web access on computers used by public servants is not an attempt to cut off the government from the Internet, but rather to segregate secure systems from activities like browsing, said Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister-In-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan in Washington on Thursday (June 9).

Responding to a question from The Straits Times about how to reconcile the recent move with the push to be a smart nation, Dr Balakrishnan said that the plan has occasionally been misconstrued as an attempt to shut off the government from the Internet. He stressed that the civil servants do need Internet access and will continue to have it.

"What we are really doing is not cutting off Internet access because, in fact, we all need Internet access on a daily basis in order to access information, in order to transact and in order to deliver information to our citizens," he said.

"So there is no possibility of cutting off ourselves from the Internet. What we are actually doing is segregating secure e-mail systems from other activities which you conduct on the Internet like browsing and transacting… Segregation is not the same as cutting off access."

He was speaking to reporters during a three-day working visit to the US capital.

The Straits Times reported on Wednesday that 100,000 public service computers will not have Internet access from next May. Web surfing can be done on employee's personal devices and dedicated Internet terminals will be issues to those who need them for work.

Dr Balakrishnan said the step was necessary in the name of cyber security and not incompatible with the idea of smart nation.

"Cyber security is absolutely essential if we are to become a smart nation. You can't have electronic medical records, you can't have financial technology, you can't have large databases with information that could be abused or misused, you can't afford a breach of privacy. So the way I look at it, cyber security is the flip side of the coin of being a smart nation," he said.

The foreign minister warned that the threat of cybercrime needed to be heeded.

"Most people underestimate the dangers of breaches of our systems and the fact that there is a clear and present threat from espionage and criminal activity on the Internet. And the sooner people realise this and take steps, not just on the civil service but even individually to protect themselves, the better."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday that the move was "absolutely necessary" to keep Government data secure.

He added that he "locked down" from the Internet on his work computer at the beginning of the year.

"It's a nuisance, it takes some getting used to, but you can do it."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.