Dissident and opposition groups in Asia, including those supported by the US, are voicing concern over reports that Washington may have monitored and collected their conversations and e-mails.
Some of these groups include legitimate political parties, others are dissidents given US assistance, but they are worried that data collected by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI from US Web giants like Google, Facebook and Yahoo could some day be used against them.
“We share a lot of sensitive data, election-related data, using Google Docs,” said Ong Kian Ming, a member of parliament for Malaysia’s opposition Democratic Action Party.
“That’s definitely something we are concerned about because we don’t know what kind of messages are being tracked and who these messages would be given to,” Ong said.
A Malaysian government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
There was no word whether US agencies were sharing such gathered information with allied governments, but British and US newspapers have suggested that the NSA has handed over information on Britons gathered under PRISM, the name of the eavesdropping program.
In Singapore, some people use encryption programs to avoid surveillance.
“If you are concerned about electronic eavesdropping, you can use pidgin IM — it has an encryption module for instant messaging,” said Donaldson Tan, editor of socio-political Web site New Asia Republic.
“There is also Tor client for online anonymity,” he said, referring to two popular free software programs developed by volunteer programmers to guard against network surveillance.
Asked if he was concerned whether the US would share surveillance information with Singaporean authorities, Tan said: “The US is really hard to read.”
A Singaporean government spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
One nation where dissidents are relatively unconcerned about the snooping revelations is China, where government critics view Washington as an ally and domestic Internet servers as subservient to Beijing.
“I’ve never considered abandoning Twitter, YouTube, Google, Gmail or Gchat,” said Hu Jia (胡佳), a prominent Chinese dissident, who has to use a virtual private network to get around China’s ban on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
“These are the only weapons we have to get our message out and the only safe way to do so. The US would never monitor us. They are using it to fight terrorism. It’s totally different to what the Chinese government does to listen in on us,” he said by telephone.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama’s administration has launched an internal review to assess damage to national security from Edward Snowden’s public release of top secret details of the NSA’s eavesdropping programs, a senior US intelligence official said. The review is separate from an initial criminal leak investigation which has been opened by the US Department of Justice, the official said.
Snowden’s employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, announced yesterday that it had fired him on Monday for violating the firm’s code of ethics.
Snowden reportedly remains in hiding in Hong Kong.