Communications stop order necessary for security operations against terrorist incidents

We refer to the Forum letters published last Friday on the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill (Bystander photos, videos could deter more attacks, by Mr Ivan Teo; Balance communications ban during attacks with need to stay informed, by Mr Sean Lim; and More police powers welcome but allow media to report facts, by Mr Rajasegaran Ramasamy).

A Communications Stop Order (CSO) is necessary to ensure that security operations undertaken by police officers are not compromised by unauthorised communications, and to avoid jeopardising the safety of officers and members of the public involved in the operations.

If the Commissioner of Police assesses that it is necessary to activate the CSO for these reasons, it will be in force in the specific location where the operation is ongoing, for the duration of the operation.

We have seen from overseas terror attacks that such powers are necessary to effectively deal with present-day terror attacks.

Leakage of information to the terrorists in, for example, the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and Paris Hyper Cacher supermarket attack in 2015, endangered both the lives of security officers responding to the attacks, and members of the public caught in it.

During last year's Las Vegas shooting incident, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had to urge the public not to livestream or share tactical positions of officers on the scene, to avoid putting emergency responders in danger.

The police will communicate the activation of the CSO to the public through various platforms (including print, broadcast and social media), and also on the ground if need be.

When the CSO is in force, the making or communicating of videos or pictures of the specified location, and the communicating of text or audio messages about the ongoing security operations in the incident area, are prohibited.

However, the public can still submit information to the police via the 999 hotline, or through the iWitness and SGSecure mobile applications.

The police will also not take action against those caught up in the incident who made such communications, for example, people trapped in the incident location trying to get messages out.

Sunny Lee

Director, Media Relations

Ministry of Home Affairs

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2018, with the headline 'Communications stop order necessary for security operations against terrorist incidents'. Print Edition | Subscribe