Gahmen banning Interwebs from public servants’ computers


From ‘Public servants won’t have Internet access on their work computers by next May’, 8 June 2016, article in Today

Civil servants will not be able to access the Internet from their work computers from next year, following an “extensive review” by the Government to reduce the prospects of its data being compromised or stolen by cyber attackers.

News of the new policy, first reported by The Straits Times, was confirmed by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) on Wednesday (June 8). In response to queries from TODAY, an IDA spokesman said a trial has been underway to “separate Internet access from the work stations of a selected group of public service officers”. The new policy will be rolled out to “the rest of the public service officers progressively over a one-year period”, the IDA spokesman added without giving details.

TODAY understands that the restrictions would be in place by May 2017. A memo that has been sent to some civil servants warned: “With the number of cyber-security threats on the rise, being attacked is a given….As long as the Government networks are connected to the Internet, the risks of Government data being stolen and leaked will be heightened.”

The new rules, however, do not mean an outright ban on Internet access during work hours for civil servants. “There are alternatives for Internet access and the work that officers need to do, does not change,” the IDA said without elaboration. TODAY understands that public servants can still access the Internet at work using mobile devices. Intranet access will also be available.

What the Phish.

The decision to sever Internet access from public servants’ workstations threatens not just the productivity of officers but ultimately affects the public who depend on their services as well. It’s puzzling that the IDA is pushing out such extreme measures to protect Government data but organisations from the private sector such as banking which have tight regulations on personal data protection are spared of the blanket ban. It’s OK for a hacker to wipe out your life savings but not the Government’s intimate secrets.

Contrary to some commentators’ opinions that the Internet is for civil servants to surf entertainment sites like Youtube during their breaks, public officers have become increasingly dependent on the Internet for their work in this knowledge-based economy. There is no shame is googling for information and nobody expects our civil servants to prod about in the National Archives looking for statistics to substantiate one sentence in a policy paper, like how many impoverished souls in Singapore lack access to wireless broadband.

IDA clarified that officers can still use mobile devices at work, but that’s like having one watch to tell time and another to use as an alarm. It’s inefficient, resource-heavy, and not sustainable tech at all. Despite such clunky efforts to ensure that the frogs in the well have at least some access to the world out there, given the sheer volume of Internet-dependent work, the actual impact of these lifelines, particularly centralised terminals where staff have to take queue numbers to surf and download info, is equivalent to shining a torchlight out of an information black hole.

Now that officers can only access the web through their mobile devices, it also gives true malingerers all the more reason to play with their phones in the name of ‘research’. It also doesn’t stop disgruntled employees from taking snapshots of sensitive data and posting it on forums. The nanny state legacy lives on, civil servants are the Internet noobs, and the IDA is the Parental Lock of all parental locks. Everyone else is on the information superhighway, while our public service are muddling along in a horsecart on a dirt trail chewing on stalks of lallang like the bumpkins they’ll eventually become.

Such drastic measures in the name of cyber-security run counter to our country’s vision to be a ‘smart nation’ and innovation hub. In the eyes of other modern cities that face the same problems as us, imposing a massive firewall is reflective of rigid thinking, akin to throwing all our advances in connectivity back into the Stone Age of the Internet. It was a slow creep towards an eventual Internet blackout, from the regulation of news sites to the prosecution of The Real Singapore. The joke will be on us when despite all this clampdown on Government networks, someone still manages to hack into our electricity grid and bring the entire nation to its knees. The only consolation when that happens is that we can trust our civil service to still communicate without the web, using invisible ink, carrier pigeons, hiding ciphers in muffins, putting their ears to the ground and other archaic skills worthy of a World War hero that they’ve picked up while deprived of the hazards of technology. When the world goes to shit, our civil service, hardened by years of internet deprivation, will be there lighting our fires, armed with the Oxford dictionary and CD-ROMs of the Encyclopedia Britannica, teaching us how to write with stationery again.

Dear Internet, I’m sorry for complaining when the browser shuts down abruptly. I’m sorry for moaning when a page hangs seemingly for eternity. I’m sorry for all the table-banging when I get the blue screen of death after opening too many tabs. Come back, Internet. I will never again mishandle a LAN cable again.

Help our civil servants get their interwebs mojo back.





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