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Net provider sorry for government-aided snooping

British Broadcasting Corporation. May 3, 1999.

Singapore secret police computer scan scare

AN Internet service provider in the city-state of Singapore has apologised to its subscribers after scanning their computers without their knowledge.

The matter came to light after a student became aware of the hacking last week and complained to the police.

The ISP, Singnet, asked the Home Affairs Ministry to check the computers of its 200,000 subscribers as part of a computer virus scare.

But the company was forced to come clean when the search showed up on an anti-hacking programme installed by 21-year old law student Ann Li on her computer and was traced back to the Singapore Government.

The Home Affairs Ministry oversees law-enforcement and internal security in the tightly run South East Asian country.

Singnet says it did not access any confidential information, and insists it was merely checking users' accounts for evidence of the so-called Trojan Horse virus which makes a computer more vulnerable to hackers.

The company said it detected 900 of its customers who have had their computer systems infected by the virus.

But since the affair came to light users have been bombarding online discussion groups with messages of protest and many have threatened to cancel their accounts with Singnet, which provides internet access to around a half of Sinagpore's internet users.

One suggested the government's hacking was like housebreaking and said the company should be charged with unlawful entry.

Singnet says there was no invasion of privacy because the scan merely detected loopholes which could be used by hackers and could not access personal information.

A company official likened it to a policeman patrolling in cyberspace checking if the windows in people's computer systems were open.

But this seems to have satisfied few of the company's outraged customers. One questioned whether it was alright to peep into people's windows and when caught say it was all for the occupants' sake.

Singnet has now apologised to its customers - by email - and says the security check has since been abandoned.

The company said it hoped its customers would "be assured that we only had your best interests at heart."

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