Online Criminal Harms Act to be introduced this year: Josephine Teo

Second Minister of Home Affairs says Act will expand regulation of online criminal activities, and also curb online gambling

Josephine Teo giving speech (left) and man making online bet (Photos: MCI Youtube/Getty Images)
Josephine Teo giving speech (left) and man making online bet (Photos: MCI Youtube/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE - With online threats steadily on the rise, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Monday (27 February) that her ministry will be introducing the Online Criminal Harms Act in Singapore later this year.

The proposed Act will build on the current laws to counter online threats in three ways, if passed by the parliament:

  • It will expand the scope of regulatory levers that the government can apply to online criminal activities. This would include powers to stop or remove online communications that would facilitate crimes in the physical world, such as inciting violence.

  • It will increase the scope of entities the government can act against. All mediums of online communications through which criminal activities could be conducted will be covered under this Act.

  • It will introduce levers that deal more effectively with the nature of online criminal hubs.

The Act aims to close gaps left by the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which was passed in 2019 to tackle the spread of online fake news, and the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act that was passed in 2021.

Speaking in Parliament during the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) Committee of Supply debate, Mrs Teo said that online harms are constantly evolving, and adopt various forms including falsehoods, foreign interference, and inappropriate sexual abuse material. Online mediums are also exploited to incite violence, carry out scams and drug trafficking.

"The new legislation will introduce upstream measures to detect and reduce scams such as safeguards against in authentic accounts. This legislation will also apply to other malicious cyber activities like phishing," she said.

Close monitoring of online gambling and emerging trends

Mrs Teo added that MHA will continue to closely monitor online gambling, as "the lines of gambling and gaming have become blurred".

She referenced video game "loot boxes", which feature a range of virtual items of value in which players may win based on varied probabilities. Such loot boxes are currently allowed via a class licensing regime if the video game fulfils either of two conditions:

  • The loot box within the game is entirely free of charge to play;

  • The video game does not contain monetisation facilities (players are unable to exchange virtual prizes for real-world payouts, such as money or merchandise).

Example of a video game gold treasure loot box (Photo: Getty Images)
Example of a video game gold treasure loot box (Photo: Getty Images)

She reiterated that gambling is prohibited in Singapore unless licensed or exempted, whether online or physically. The new Online Criminal Harms Act will therefore "ensure safeguard against gambling inducement rather than gaming" through a practical and balanced approach.

MHA will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the gambling legislation and update regulatory approaches when needed.

Blocked access to egregious content

Mrs Teo also said that the Infocomm Media Development Authority is now able to deal with harmful online content accessible to Singapore users, whether hosted or initiated.

Access to egregious content on online communications services, including social media platforms, can be blocked by the government.

“But there remain gaps. There is online content which are criminal in their own right, or content which facilitate or abet such crimes,” she added.

"These crimes include syndicated ones like scams, online incitement of mass public disorder, and malicious cyber activities such as phishing and the distribution of malware."

Mrs Teo informed the Parliament that the MHA has been monitoring these developments closely and intends to update their suite of legislation to better protect Singaporeans.

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