The lack of verification of an author's identity by socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) and its subsequent publication of an article by that writer which alleged corruption by top government officials have troubling implications, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin yesterday.
"In this particular instance, an innocent man was almost implicated and Mr De Costa could have escaped identification and accountability," he said.
Mr Amrin sought to explain the authorities' actions to charge TOC editor Terry Xu, 36, and alleged author of the article De Costa Daniel Augustin, 35, with criminal defamation.
Police investigations had revealed that the article in question, which had been e-mailed to TOC and signed off as Willy Sum, was in fact written by Mr De Costa, said Mr Amrin.
Mr De Costa had allegedly used another person's e-mail account to send the piece to TOC without his consent. For this, he faces an additional charge of unauthorised access to computer material.
"Terry Xu has said that he published the article without checking who the real author was, in fact TOC has published other articles by Mr De Costa under the name Willy Sum before," said Mr Amrin.
He noted that some people had questioned why the police had to seize the laptops and mobile equipment of the suspects for this case.
"The law on this is very clear," stressed Mr Amrin. "Under Section 35(1)(b) and (c) of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police will seize material necessary for investigations, material which is suspected of having been used to commit offences and so on.
"The seizure of the electronic equipment in fact uncovered evidence pointing towards the identity of the true author of the article."
He said action was being taken in this case as the article in question made "serious" allegations that members of the Cabinet were corrupt.
"The allegations go to the core of the integrity and reputation of leaders and the Government, and this is something that we cannot take lightly," he added.
"A clear stand has to be taken. This is what we are founded on and it is important that we keep the foundations firm, whether it is new media or old media."
The fact that investigations showed there was an attempt by an individual to hide his tracks using the e-mail account of another person was another factor that warranted a swift response from the authorities, noted Mr Amrin.
He added: "People have to be responsible and there are clear implications under the law."