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Activist: Computers seized by police in 2016 were returned in a damaged condition

Teo Soh Lung was investigated, like P J Thum recently, following a report by the Elections Department

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Singapore — Civil rights activist Teo Soh Lung has claimed that computers and electronic devices seized from her by the police in 2016 were returned in a damaged condition more than a year later.

Ms Teo, a lawyer, made the claim in a social media post published on Friday (Sept 25) by local NGO Function 8.

She was among a group of people who were detained without trail during the Internal Security Department’s (ISD) Operation Spectrum in 1987. The group set up Function 8 about a decade ago to champion civil rights in Singapore.

In 2016, Ms Teo was investigated over alleged violations of Cooling-Off Day regulations and was interviewed at the Cantonment Police Complex on May 31. At the end of the two-hour interview, Ms Teo was escorted by 7 to 8 police officers back to her home in a search for evidence relating to her alleged offence.

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The police officers, who allegedly went through her belongings without a search warrant, seized a desktop computer, a laptop and a mobile phone.

Historian Thum Ping Tjin underwent a similar experience after the Elections Department (ELD) filed a police report on Sept 18 against New Naratif — a socio-political website he founded. The ELD, which is under the Prime Minister’s Office, accused New Naratif of breaching the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during this year’s elections.

It said five paid Facebook advertisements New Naratif put up during the election period contravened the PEA since the publication was not authorised by any candidate or election agent in the General Election to conduct election activity.

The police summoned Dr Thum for investigations at Clementi Police Station on Sept 21. The interview reportedly lasted about four-and-a-half hours, after which police officers escorted the historian to his home, where they seized his laptop and mobile phone.

Function 8 condemned the action against Dr Thum in a statement published on Thursday (24 Sept). The group said it considers the action brought on by the ELD a form of “harassment” against Dr Thum and called on the police to immediately cease its investigations and return his personal devices.

The NGO asserted: “Dr P J Thum is not the first, nor will he be the last victim of the Prime Minister’s Office unless this abuse of the law committed by the very people who are entrusted to keep law and order is stopped.”

Ms Teo claimed that the items that were seized from her in 2016 were returned in poor condition, in a subsequent post published on Function 8’s Facebook page. Sharing photos of her damaged belongings, she claimed that the police duplicated and went through all the data on her devices:

“When the forensic team seized my computers and new Samsung mobile phone in 2016, they plastered all the ports with seals before they put them into bags and envelopes and sealed them in my presence.

“All these seals are only for show. Back in their office, the police simply open up the CPU (by unscrewing the back) and notebook. The hard disks are removed and marked as “Original Exhibits”. These hard disks are then duplicated.

“Similarly the chip in the mobile is removed and duplicated. The police would work on their duplicate hard disks. They ploughed through all the data.”

Calling such acts a “gross invasion of privacy”, Ms Teo added: “If the police are careful, they will cause less damage. If not, they simply break your equipment. When they are done with going through all the data, the equipment are then dumped into the store room which is not airconditioned.”

Ms Teo said she noticed egregious damage to her devices when they were finally returned to her 14 months later. She claimed:

“My Fujitsu notebook was damaged. The back was chipped off by force and the screen “scratched”, probably due to heat in the store room. The CPU though in working order was extraordinarily slow. My new Samsung mobile phone became outdated. The police do not compensate for damage caused.”

SEIZED COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONIC DEVICES by Teo Soh Lung When the forensic team seized my computers and new Samsung…

Posted by Function 8 on Friday, September 25, 2020

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