Doxxing – the act of publishing someone’s personal details with the intention of harassment – could soon be criminalised in Singapore under proposed changes to the Protection of Harassment Act (POHA) introduced in Parliament on Monday (1 April) by Senior Minister of State for Law, Edwin Tong.
According to media reports, the proposed amendments to the five-year-old Act are meant to enhance protection for victims of harassment and falsehoods, and to make it easier for victims to obtain remedies.
Since the act came into force in November 2014, more than 1,700 prosecutions and over 3,000 Magistrate’s Complaints have been filed to obtain criminal and civil remedies against harassment, as well as civil remedies for false statements of facts. More than 500 people have also made applications for Protection Orders.
But in a media statement, the Ministry of Law said that new social trends such as doxxing and the viral spread of falsehoods to harm individuals, have emerged over the last few years.
Doxxing in context of online vigilantism
MinLaw noted that doxxing often arises in the context of online vigilantism. Some examples include falsely declaring that a person is a “prostitute” on social media, or posting a video of a person containing his contact information and calling for others to threaten or attack him.
One example of such online vigilantism in Singapore was the dispute involving a Go-Jek driver and his passenger, who accused him of trying to cheat her of an Electronic Road Pricing gantry fee. The dispute was recorded and posted online in February, and netizens reacted with outrage at the passenger, with some naming and shaming her online.
According to MinLaw, the proposed changes will seek to ban online publication of personal information such as names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, passwords, photographs or even details about the individual’s family, employment or education.
The existing laws ban intentional harassment only if it assumes the form of threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour or communication. However, MinLaw said that posting someone’s personal information online with the intention to harass or cause violence can be considered a form of deliberate harassment, even if threatening words were not used.
Fine, jail proposed for doxxing perpetrators
Doxxing perpetrators could face a fine of up to $5,000 or a jail term of up to six months if the intention was to cause harassment, or 12 months if they intended to cause fear or provoke violence.
The amendments will also provide recourse to individuals who are victims of falsehoods, MinLaw said.
The scope of orders which can be made in relation to falsehoods will be expanded, with the courts empowered to make a range of orders to better protect victims of falsehoods. Furthermore, given the fact that false statements can go viral extremely quickly, MinLaw said that the courts will also be empowered to make relevant interim orders such as a takedown notice to provide victims with urgent relief.
New court to be set up
As part of the amendments, a new, specialised Protection from Harassment Courts (PHC) will also be set up with oversight over all criminal and civil matters under POHA. It will adopt simplified procedures which allow claims, Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders to be filed using a straightforward claim form, instead of requiring an Originating Summons as is currently the case.
The PHC aims to hear applications for Expedited Protection Orders within 48 to 72 hours of the application, or 24 hours if there is actual violence or a risk of violence.
With the amendments, protection afforded by Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders will be enhanced. Protection will be extended to persons related to the victim, such as the victim’s family members or children, as they are also often at risk of violence from the harasser, said MinLaw.
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