Measures in S'pore's foreign interference law to counter hostile information campaigns take effect from July 7

Parliament approved the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act in October 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The authorities can now direct social media platforms and Internet service providers to investigate attempts by foreign parties to interfere in Singapore's domestic politics.

These hostile attempts could include the use of inauthentic accounts and bots to engineer a false sense of strong public support or opposition to certain views, with the aim to incite social tensions and undermine Singapore's sovereignty.

Provisions to counter such hostile information campaigns (HICs), spelt out in the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, will take effect from Thursday (July 7), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Wednesday.

Parliament approved Fica in October last year.

The law contains provisions to counteract foreign interference via local proxies, or political individuals or entities such as ministers and elected MPs. These provisions will come into force later, said MHA.

In a statement reiterating the need for Fica, it added that the threat of foreign interference has risen in potential and severity because of the Internet and social media.

"These platforms have contributed to the increasing ease, sophistication and impunity with which hostile foreign actors are able to carry out HICs," it said.

The ministry noted that when Singapore faced bilateral issues with another country in 2018, there was an abnormal spike in social media comments which were critical of the Republic.

These posts, made by anonymous accounts, sought to create an artificial impression of opposition to the Republic's positions, said MHA.

During a period of tension with another country between 2016 and 2017, Singapore experienced a coordinated HIC that attempted to undermine its foreign policy position.

Online commentaries and videos were uploaded by social media accounts which had lain dormant for years, added MHA.

"These contents were also widely circulated via chat apps and aimed at influencing sentiments among Singaporeans."

More recently, observers have cautioned against attempts by foreign actors worldwide to sway sentiments over Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, including through the use of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

As for local proxies, Fica requires those who are considered "politically significant persons" to comply with a baseline set of obligations and countermeasures.

Among other things, they need to declare any donations worth $10,000 or more to a competent authority.

An MP also cannot allow foreigners to volunteer at Meet-the-People sessions or community outreach programmes.

People issued with Fica directions may apply to the Minister for Home Affairs for reconsideration, before appealing to a reviewing tribunal.

The tribunal is independent and can overrule the decisions of the minister, said MHA.

It is chaired by a Supreme Court judge and includes two other people from outside the Government with legal or technical expertise.

The decisions of the reviewing tribunal are final and binding on all parties, MHA added.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.