Proposed foreign interference law can force takedown of 'hostile' content

·Editorial team
·3-min read
Singapore's Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Singapore's Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A proposed new law will empower the Minister for Home Affairs to order takedowns of content deemed to be part of hostile information campaigns (HIC).

The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act will also enable the minister to compel, among others, social media companies and persons who run websites, blogs or social media pages, to disclose information to help investigate and counter hostile communications activity that is of foreign origin.

Such individuals and organisations, alongside newspapers and telecommunication companies, can be required to carry a mandatory message about imminent hostile campaigns even if they did not carry the content in question.

However, the Bill will not apply to Singaporeans expressing their own views on political matters, unless they are agents of a foreign principal. "Singaporeans have the right to discuss politics," said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Monday (13 September).

The provisions also will not apply to foreign individuals or publications 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.

The Act, claimed MHA, will strengthen Singapore's ability to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and the use of local proxies.

Takedown notices are especially necessary when the content can cause "immediate and significant harm in Singapore, such as inciting violence or causing hostility between groups".

Among the broad provisions of the Act, the Minister can issue Account Restriction Directions to, for example, social media companies if it believes certain accounts are being used or set up for HICs. Such directions will require them to block content in these accounts from being viewed in Singapore.

Politically significant persons

The Bill also extends the current provisions of the Political Donations Act (PDA), which prohibits political associations and election candidates and agents from accepting donations from foreign sources.

There are currently no prohibitions on donations to Members of Parliament, political office holders, the Leader of the House or Leader of the Opposition.

The new Bill will define individuals and organisations such as political office holders, political parties and MPs as Politically Significant Persons (PSP).

PSPs will be required to report single donations of $10,000 or more, and multiple donations from the same permissible donor that amount to $10,000 or more in any calendar year. They will also not be allowed to receive anonymous donations beyond the cap of $5,000 in any calendar year.

In addition, no foreigners will be allowed to volunteer for their political activities, and they must disclose affiliations with any foreign entity.

"Foreign states may also attempt to cultivate Singapore citizens to influence our domestic politics through their involvement in foreign political and legislative bodies. It is necessary to have oversight over such individuals as they may potentially be exploited to influence our political processes," said MHA.

The Bill was introduced in Parliament on Monday and its second reading will take place on Tuesday.

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