Parliament: Terror attacks abroad illustrate 'gaps' in current laws, says Josephine Teo

Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo noted that in several overseas incidents, police had appealed to the public not to transmit or broadcast videos of ongoing security operations to protect their officers and members of the public.
Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo noted that in several overseas incidents, police had appealed to the public not to transmit or broadcast videos of ongoing security operations to protect their officers and members of the public.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Studying terror attacks overseas has revealed "gaps" in Singapore's laws, which do not allow the police's special powers to be activated when there is no public disorder, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

She cited the manhunt following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, where the Boston police issued a voluntary stay-in-place request to residents in Watertown when searching for the suspect. Despite the request, some residents still ventured outdoors and unknowingly affected police operations, she said.

Had a similar manhunt taken place in Singapore, police could not have activated special powers to enforce a curfew in the search area as there was no public disorder, Mrs Teo noted.

This is why the new Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act is needed, she told Parliament on Wednesday (March 21) when she presented the Bill for debate.

Mrs Teo also said present laws do not allow police to respond as promptly, citing how the theatre of police operations can shift quickly like in the aftermath of the attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

This is because with the Public Order (Preservation) Act, the Home Affairs Minister would have to make new proclamations to bring the powers to bear in every new incident area when operations shift to a new location.

The new proposed laws will allow the Police Commissioner to do so when deemed necessary, after an activation order is given by the minister.

 
 

Special powers granted to police under the proposed laws include that of imposing a cordon and - more controversially - enforcing a communications stop order that penalises taking photos and videos of an incident area when the order is in place, among other things.

Mrs Teo noted that in several overseas incidents, police had appealed to the public not to transmit or broadcast videos of ongoing security operations to protect their officers and members of the public. "But this is usually not effective," she said.

She gave the example of how several shootouts took place as police pursued the two gunmen from the Charlie Hebdo attack across north-eastern France. On the day police stormed their hiding spot, a third gunman had walked into a Jewish supermarket, taking hostages.

In that case, members of the public were recording footage of police gathering outside the store and beginning to storm the place, she said. "The terrorist had every possibility of watching every move of the police's operation, as it happened."

"These overseas examples show why our laws need updating," said Mrs Teo.