Remember May 21st? Yes! Abolish ISA? Not Yet!

I supported the call to remember May 21st and the apparent injustice done to the do-gooders in the society in 1987. But I do not support the abolishment of Internal Security Act yet; without putting into place another legislation like Terrorism Prevention Act. A country like Singapore has got to be prepared and ready to take all action necessary to prevent and evade the threat of terrorism, which is very real.

The colonial masters of Malaya introduced a set of ‘Emergency Regulations’ in 1948, in response to the communist uprising during the Malayan Emergency. In 1960, three years after the independence of Malaya, the Malayan Emergency was declared over but the Internal Security Act was passed in its place with much of the same powers and Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman stated that the ISA would only be applied against only the remaining Communist insurgents. On its separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore retained the ISA.

Most countries including the USA, has got various apparatus of internal security. They just don’t call it the ‘Internal Security Act’. For example, the USA passed the Homeland Security Act in 2002 , which is a variant of the ISA. The USA has created other internal security apparatus besides the Department of Homeland Security, like the FBI, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, The US Marshals, The Transportation Security Administration, and The Drug Enforcement Administration.

Perhaps instead of abolishing ISA, there is a greater need to set up a commissions to re-analyse the 2005 reforms of ISA, to ensure that internal security remains relevant in the era of ‘post communist insurgents’ and to strengthen the internal security apparatus. What should be the strength of our internal security apparatus? Intelligence comprising of research and analysis, technical intelligence and various other agencies of intelligence gathering; and their coordination, intelligence assessment, dissemination, their weaponry, training, autonomy of our police forces etc.

This re-analysing should ensure that ISA is not misused for political purposes. That is another reason why power should not rest with just one group of people.


Tan Ah Kow said…
How exactly is ISA useful preventing terrorism?

If you study the history of ISA like legislature, enacted in Singapore and many other countries, there is no instances where such act actually prevented terrorism.

Look at Northern Ireland during the days of the IRA, the UK had ISA legislature, which allows for detention without trial, but it did not "prevent" terrorism.

Look at Sri Lanka, it had ISA like legislation but it did not "prevent" the tiger resistence from forming.

The list goes on.

Ok, you might argue that by the nature of such legislation we will never know if terrorism is "prevented" or not, since all these are conducted in the dark. The point is it can stop people from wanting to inflict terrorism if there is no intelligence.

At best such act can only do is deal with the after effects of terrorism -- i.e. round up people and detain without trial. In which case, one better prey that the act itself does not make it a recruiting sergeant for terrorist.

Also, the presence of such acts tend to have the effect of making people in power to be lazy -- i.e. if not using to surpress political opponents but also to resort to catching the "usual" suspects just to show action.

My understanding from people in the intelligence community -- or so they claim -- is that to prevent terrorism, the only real way is to do it is good intelligence. And quite often, good intelligence is not to let people know they have been watched. And the last thing good intelligence wants is for people to be arrested in a cause that they can trace back to the source.

Quite often, if the claims are true, if bad things are about to happen they would make it seemed like the act was stop by a co-incidence. For example, if there are intelligence found out a car bomb were to occur, they might get say the traffic cop to "accidentally" stop for traffic violation and then "accidentally' found the bomb. That way, the source of the intel would not be discovered. Ok the terrorist might not be charged with a special act but normal legislation, e.g. carrying dangerous substances, etc. The point is the terrorist act is prevented!