New police watchgroup to share counter-terror and cyber crime data with tech firms

Minister of State Desmond Tan (centre), AIC chairman Ang Choo Pin (left) and Deputy Comissioner of Police (Operations) Tan Hung Hooi at the launch on Jan 6, 2021.
Minister of State Desmond Tan (centre), AIC chairman Ang Choo Pin (left) and Deputy Comissioner of Police (Operations) Tan Hung Hooi at the launch on Jan 6, 2021. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The fight against terrorism in Singapore got a boost on Wednesday (Jan 6) with the launch of a new group which will share relevant and timely counterterror data between tech firms and the police.

The Online Industry Safety and Security Watch Group (iSSWG), a collaboration between the Singapore Police Force and the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), will also work to promote greater exchange of information to fight online crime and enhance public awareness of scams.

The coalition includes big names in the tech world like Facebook, Google and Grab.

Speaking at the watch group's launch, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said that terrorism has expanded its reach and influence via online channels, with serious consequences in the real world.

He brought up the case of the deadly shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, where the attacker who killed more than 50 people developed his views from the Internet and was emboldened by others he met in extremist forums.

"Digital platforms offer new means to spread extremist propaganda to a wider group of communities. Their designs and algorithms can also create echo chambers and entrench extremist beliefs," he said.

There is thus a need for Singapore to enhance its framework and devise new strategies to counter online security threats, he added.

The Online iSSWG will allow the police to tap on the AIC's network of 15 tech companies to obtain insights that can help to fight terrorism and other online crimes.

In a media release on Wednesday, the police said this watch group will also work to enhance public awareness of common scam tactics and cyber safety - but did not elaborate on how this will be done.

E-commerce scams, media impersonation scams, loan scams and banking-related phishing scams are areas of concern to Singapore. Police said these four categories made up 71 per cent of the top 10 scam types reported in the first half of last year.

The online watch group is the seventh set up by the police with industry partners to address industry specific safety and security concerns, along with similar groups including in the chemical, financial and hotel sectors. Such partnerships are important to the work of the police, said Mr Tan.

The new watch group was welcomed by AIC members.

A spokesman for Facebook said: "For years, we have worked closely with a range of stakeholders in Singapore - including the Singapore Police Force - to inform and educate users on how they can stay safe online. We warmly welcome the formation of the Online iSSWG and Facebook looks forward to collaborating with the other members of the AIC on this new initiative."

Mr Tan said that criminals and terrorists will continue to be inventive and exploit the vulnerabilities of the virtual space, and that it was imperative that authorities here stay one step ahead of them.

"We must stay ahead of these technological developments," he stressed.

"Our community partnerships must go beyond the physical sphere, involving business partners and entities online, to strengthen the ecosystem for a more effective and coordinated response to these threats."