Explained: What is Singapore’s controversial law to counter foreign interference?


Singapore passed a law aimed at strengthening the government’s capacity to “prevent, detect or disrupt” any foreign interference in domestic policy through “hostile information campaigns” and “the use of local proxies”.

The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill, approved after a 10-hour debate in parliament on Monday, was first tabled on September 13 by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, of the ruling Popular Action Party.

“This is because the activities undertaken by foreign persons, and those acting on their behalf, can cause serious damage to Singapore’s national security, jeopardize Singapore’s military capabilities and security relations, threaten economic stability. Singapore and undermine Singapore’s political sovereignty and system of government, ”he added. Bill states.

What is the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Law?

The law gives the Singapore government the power to combat foreign interference through electronic communications, including online communications, which can influence citizens and act against the public interest.

The law identifies persons who could potentially pose a threat to the political sovereignty of the country if “the activities of the person are influenced by foreign principals”.

It would prevent, prevent and reduce foreign interference by “politically important persons”. The law states that those involved in Singapore’s political processes would be classified as politically significant persons and would be required to periodically disclose their sources of funding. “Heavier responsibilities fall on politically important people who are assessed as presenting a higher risk,” the bill says.

The law gives the Minister of the Interior the right to investigate, stop access or delete social media accounts, websites and internet applications and internet services.

FICA requires Singaporean newspapers and media, which publish articles on political issues, to disclose all information about any of their foreign authors or foreign entities on whose direction a particular article might be published in their journal, program d information or website.

The law has been widely criticized as a move against the Singapore government’s dissent. A statement issued by the Home Office said: “These provisions do 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. They also do not apply to foreign individuals or foreign publications that report or comment on Singapore politics in an open, transparent, and accountable manner, even though their comments may be critical of Singapore or the government.

What are hostile information campaigns under the law?

FICA says it will act against any foreign interference carried out through Hostile Information Campaigns (HIC).

By law, HICs are “highly sophisticated and secretive methods”. If an act is identified as HIC or considered to be a hostile information campaign, the government would have the power to direct internet services, social media applications, and websites to disclose information requested by authorities about an individual or company. organization “to determine whether harmful communications activity is undertaken by or on behalf of a foreign principal”.

The Home Secretary will have the power to instruct Internet intermediaries to block content, restrict accounts, stop reporting, and deactivate accounts. In the event of non-compliance by an internet intermediary with the instructions of the government, the law also gives the minister the right to block access to this internet intermediary.

FICA aims to stop the source of funding for “harmful online content that is undertaken by or on behalf of a foreign principal” and would require individuals and organizations who post harmful online content to return the funding to the source ” foreign ”funding or submit it to the authorities.

Who are politically important people and what does the law say about them?

Individuals and organizations directly associated with Singapore’s political process are, by law, politically important persons. These include political parties, political office holders, Members of Parliament, the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, election candidates and their agents.

The law states that politically important people would face countermeasures under FICA if there is foreign interference through donation, volunteerism, leadership, membership or affiliation.

FICA has moved beyond the Political Donations Act, which only prohibited candidates and election officials from receiving foreign donations, but FICA is reaching out to other politically important people as well.

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FICA requires politically important people to report donations over $ 10,000; keep separate accounts for political donations; not allow foreigners to volunteer in political activities; and disclose all associations with foreign entities.

How will foreign interference be punished?

Appeals against hostile information campaigns and politically important people would be heard by an independent review tribunal, not the country’s courts. The tribunal would be chaired by a sitting High Court judge and two people from outside the government appointed by the Home Secretary. Decisions rendered by the tribunal would be final.

According to the Singapore government, these cases would be heard in court and not in open court because they could involve “sensitive information with implications for national security”.

What are the criticisms of the law?

The ruling Popular Action Party has been accused of adopting the FICA as a measure against dissent and of suppressing the media.

A non-governmental organization fighting for media rights, Reporters Without Borders released a statement saying it was appalled that the Singapore government had proposed the bill. He said: “Under the pretext of defending national sovereignty, he [FICA] allow the government to designate any independent media as a foreign agent and censor its content.

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Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific office of Reporters Without Borders, said: “Above all, under the pretext of preventing possible foreign influence on the state, this bill institutionalizes the persecution of any national entity that does not respect the line set by the government and the ruling party, starting with the independent media.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, according to The Guardian, said Singapore has used foreign influence in FICA as a “bogeyman to justify its increased persecution of opposition politicians, activists and activists. civil society and independent media ”.

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