Law to counter foreign interference in Singapore to take effect from 7 July

·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
FICA will empower the Minister for Home Affairs to compel, among others, internet, social media service providers, and website operators to disclose user information, block content, and remove applications. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
FICA will empower the Minister for Home Affairs to compel, among others, internet, social media service providers, and website operators to disclose user information, block content, and remove applications. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Singapore authorities will be able to order from Thursday (7 July) takedowns of content deemed to be part of hostile information campaigns by foreign parties to interfere in domestic affairs under a controversial law.

The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA), passed in Parliament last October, will empower the Minister for Home Affairs to compel, among others, internet, social media service providers, and website operators to disclose user information, block content, and remove applications, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Wednesday.

The legislation also provides measures to counter foreign interference in Singapore's domestic politics conducted through the use of local proxies who are deemed or designated as "politically significant persons". These will come into force at a later stage, said MHA.

Under the law, these local proxies will have to declare donations worth $10,000 or more and their links to foreign entities.

"In recent times, the threat of foreign interference has risen in potential and severity because of the internet and social media," according to MHA.

Such platforms have contributed to the "increasing ease, sophistication, and impunity" with which hostile foreign actors are able to carry out hostile information campaigns.

A range of tools and tactics can be used and employed on these platforms, including creating inauthentic accounts and bots, as well as inciting other users to “troll”, harass or intimidate a particular target.

When Singapore faced bilateral issues with another country in 2018, there was an abnormal spike in online comments which were critical of Singapore on social media, MHA said.

These posts, made by anonymous accounts, sought to create an artificial impression of opposition to Singapore’s positions, it added.

During a period of tension with another country between 2016 and 2017, Singapore experienced a coordinated hostile information campaign that attempted to undermine its foreign policy position.

"Online commentaries and videos were uploaded by social media accounts which had lain dormant for years. These contents were also widely circulated via chat apps and aimed at influencing sentiments among Singaporeans," MHA said.

FICA does not apply to Singaporeans expressing their own views and acting on their own accord.

It also does not apply to foreigners reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent, and attributable way, even if their comments may be critical of Singapore or the government, said MHA.

An independent tribunal – chaired by a judge and includes two other individuals from outside the government with legal or technical expertise – will hear any appeals against the minister's decisions. The tribunal's decisions can override the minister’s and will be final.

The law has been criticised by some opposition politicians and academics for its broad provisions and lack of judicial review, which leaves it vulnerable to abuse by a rogue government.

Such concerns were also raised by several MPs during the parliamentary sitting last October, where FICA was passed after more than 10 hours of intense debate.

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