S'pore's draft anti-foreign interference law 'worded very broadly', says Facebook

But the tech giant's global head of cyber-security policy stressed that Facebook and the Singapore Government ultimately share the same goal.
But the tech giant's global head of cyber-security policy stressed that Facebook and the Singapore Government ultimately share the same goal.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Facebook on Tuesday (Sept 28) said Singapore's proposed law to counter foreign interference is "worded very broadly" and it will be watching how the Government distinguishes between hostile campaigns and others.

But the tech giant's global head of cyber-security policy, Mr Nathaniel Gleicher, stressed that Facebook and the Singapore Government ultimately share the same goal.

He said: "We don't want foreign interference, in particular covert influence operations, on our platform."

Mr Gleicher was asked at a press briefing over Facebook's position on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, which was tabled in Parliament on Sept 13.

The Act seeks to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and the use of local proxies.

When passed into law, it will allow the Minister for Home Affairs to issue directions to various entities, including social media companies and Internet access providers, to help the authorities investigate and counter hostile communications activity from abroad.

Mr Gleicher's comments on the Bill being broadly worded echoes reactions from security experts and lawyers in recent days.

He said on Tuesday: "Foreign interference as a concept is actually a very broad concept. You can imagine it covering both a covert operation that misleads people about what's happening, and who's behind it; and an open public effort to persuade being run by an authentic NGO (non-governmental organisation) or community of users.

"Lumping those two things together is tricky and can lead to some real challenges. One of the things we're going to be looking for is exactly how these divisions are broken up."

Noting that Singapore is one of the first countries to tackle foreign interference using laws, Mr Gleicher added: "As with any new legislative approach, you want to be careful to understand how it's going to work in practice, what its implications will be, what it means for user privacy, for freedom of expression and for security."

He said that Facebook already does a significant amount of work to tackle such threats - whether foreign or domestic - and that the social media giant's enforcement efforts are publicised.

He said: "The question that I always ask when we're looking at legislation is, what does that add to the work that's already being done? How does it improve the community that has already been built to tackle these?"

The entire ecosystem of governments, platforms and civil society must work together, with each playing its role and finding ways to be most effective, said Mr Gleicher.

"We hope in our conversations with the Government that we can find a way of working together to allow us to continue to meet our obligations under laws around the world, not just in Singapore, particularly in respect to user privacy and disclosure of user data," he added.

"We also hope the Government is going to strike a balance with protecting freedom of expression as we seek to do in our work with our policies and enforcement."

One of the countermeasures in the proposed law is a technical assistance direction requiring providers like Facebook to disclose information to help the authorities determine if hostile information campaigns are afoot.

Separately, Facebook global threat disruption director David Agranovich said the company has not picked up on foreign coordinated inauthentic behaviour targeting Singapore.

Coordinated inauthentic behaviour is defined by the social media giant as any coordinated network of accounts, pages and groups that relies on fake accounts to mislead Facebook and its users about who is behind it and what it is doing.

"We're constantly looking for these types of operations, constantly monitoring threat actors and regions," said Mr Agranovich.

While Facebook has not spotted any in Singapore, he said: "It doesn't mean that they don't exist, but that we just haven't seen them.

"It's certainly a threat that we know we need to be prepared for."