Singapore introduces bill to counter foreign interference

Out-Law News | 16 Sep 2021 | 6:39 am | 1 min. read

The Singapore government has proposed a new law which aims to prevent foreign attempts at influencing domestic politics, via hostile information campaigns or using local proxies.

The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill, which had its first reading in parliament on 13 September, would give the Singapore government new powers to tackle hostile foreign interference. These include powers to compel internet and social media service providers to disclose user information, remove online content and block user accounts.

Social and media service providers also would be required to take “practicable and technically feasible” action to remove or restrict access to hostile online content.

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) defines hostile information campaigns as including creating fake accounts to mislead users; using ‘bots’ on social media platforms to advertise; inciting users to harass or intimidate a particular target, and frequently pushing out political messages via accounts created to attract followers by posting benign topics.

Individuals and groups directly involved in Singapore's political processes will be defined as politically significant persons (PSPs) and will be governed with measures to reduce the risk of foreign interference. However, these provisions do not apply to Singaporeans expressing their own views on political matters, unless they are agents of a foreign principal.

Political parties, politicians, election candidates and their election agents will be requested to declare any foreign affiliation.

Individuals or groups that may become targets of foreign influence could be designated as PSPs and compelled to regularly disclose relevant information and obtain information on foreign interference operations.

Authorities may direct any newspaper, licenced media or PSPs that publishes matters on political issues relating to Singapore to disclose the particulars of “any foreign author or foreign principal for whom or at whose direction the article or programme is published” via newspaper, news programmes or online posting.

Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay, the Singapore joint law venture between MPillay and Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “The threat of foreign interference in elections has one which has been experienced in many jurisdictions especially in the age of online media consumption and many countries are taking steps to counter them. Singapore is no different and is proposing to enact its own measures to counter this threat before the problem becomes even bigger.”

The proposed law will set up an independent reviewing tribunal to hear appeals against hostile information campaign directions issued by the minister. The decisions made by the tribunal will be final and binding on all parties.