Singapore’s parliament is debating controversial legislation that the government says is necessary to deal with so-called foreign intervention, but the scope of concern for opposition parties, rights groups, social media platforms and others is much broader.
The so-called Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA) was first introduced last month, and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is likely to pass all but 10 of the seats in parliament.
On Monday, Home Minister K Shanmugam explained the government’s position and started the program by addressing the members.
The law would give authorities extensive powers, including mandatory internet, social media platforms and website operators, to provide users with information, block content and remove applications.
The government will also be given the power to nominate organizations or individuals as “politically important persons” if their work is directed towards political expiration in Singapore, without giving them a chance to challenge their position.
Since independence in 1955, the PAP-led country has already enacted extensive laws governing freedom of assembly, expression and association, and 201. Has introduced a widespread “fake news” law.
Freedom House, in its Freedom in the World 2021 report, ranked the country “partially free”, ranked 48 out of 100, and noted the steps taken against online media, which show a diversity of perspectives compared to city-state mainstream media.
“With a very vague definition, widespread arbitrariness and a lack of independent legal recourse for those ordered by the government, the FICA Bill is an abomination from a purely legal point of view and respectful of fundamental rights,” said Daniel Bastard, head of Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific. Said in a statement.
“Above all, under the pretext of preventing possible foreign influence on the state, the bill institutionalizes the oppression of any domestic entity that violates the line set by the government and the ruling party, starting with the independent media. As it stands, this entire Kafkaesque project contains the seeds of the worst omnivorous violence.
The Countermeasures Bill targets foreign interventions that are conducted through hostile information campaigns and local proxies. The bill does not apply to Singaporeans on the subject in question, unless they act as foreign agents.#MHAE explains #WhatTheFICA # SGUnited pic.twitter.com/TxqqYbrA5l
– Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore (has Mahasinghpur) October 2, 2021
Legal experts have also raised questions about aspects of the law.
Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore University of Management, told Reuters: “The power of restrictions …
“FICA has been developed as the most penetrating law among the statutory books,” he said.
On the basis of suspicion of foreign interference, the Home Minister may order an inquiry into the publication of a “hostile information campaign” in the public interest.
Instead of an open court, an independent panel headed by a judge will hear appeals against the minister’s decision, with the government saying a move is needed because sensitive intelligence could be involved for national security.
An online petition secured about 7,500 signatures as of Monday morning, calling on the government to reconsider the law because of its “serious impact”.
In response to a question from Reuters, the Home Office said the bill does not apply to the discussion or support of Singaporeans or the broader application of their cooperation with foreigners.
But an order can be issued if a citizen works for a foreign principal who is against the public interest.
The main opposition Workers Party has called for changes to the draft law, such as narrowing the scope of executive power to reduce the risk of abuse of power.
A group of Singaporean scholars, Academia SG, who first rallied around their concerns about the fake news law, said in an editorial on Friday that the “excessive use” of the new law would harm international exchanges and cooperation that enrich research and deepen self-education. Censorship in institutions.
The group wrote, “Its vague language will exacerbate the controversial-annoying, trouble-avoiding trend that has already overwhelmed academics in Singapore.”
Social media platforms have also expressed concern with Facebook, noting its broader wording.
The Straits Times quoted Nathaniel Gleacher, Facebook’s head of security policy, as saying, “Foreign interference as a concept is actually a broad concept.” “You can imagine it is a covert operation covering both what is happening to people, and who is confusing it; And a public effort to be managed by an authentic NGO (private organization) or community of users.
“These two things are hard to do together and it can lead to some real challenges. One of the things we are going to look for is how these sections break down.