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In brief

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) tabled the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill (“Bill“) for its first reading in Parliament on 3 October 2022, setting out proposed regulations of providers of online communication services (OCS) with significant reach or impact accessible by any Singapore end-user, as well as measures to prevent access to egregious content.

The aim of the Bill is to enhance online user safety, particularly for children, and to curb the spread of harmful content on OCS.  

Designated providers of such OCS will have to comply with Codes of Practice (“Codes“) issued by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to enhance online safety for Singapore end-users and curb the spread of harmful content on their service.

Such harmful content includes the following:

  • Sexual content
  • Violent content
  • Suicide and self-harm content
  • Cyberbullying content
  • Content endangering public health
  • Content facilitating vice and organized crime

Along with internet-access service providers, designated OCS providers will also be subject to directions from IMDA that disable, stop and block access to harmful content to Singapore end-users. Subjects of these directions must take all reasonably practicable steps to comply.

In proposing this Bill, the MCI took into account feedback received in its earlier public consultation on proposed measures to enhance online safety for Singapore-based users of social media services, released on 13 July 2022 (“Consultation“). Please see our earlier alert (Government proposes Codes of Practice to regulate harmful online content on social media) summarizing the proposals.

This Alert sets out the important sections in the Bill that providers of social media services, the first of the designated OCS, should expect.

In-scope and excluded electronic services and content

When enacted, the Bill will significantly amend the Broadcasting Act 1994 (BA). To avoid the double regulation of an online communications service as a licensable broadcasting service, the BA will be amended to create 2 different regimes.

The BA will be extended to regulate all providers of OCS, both provided internally or externally from Singapore. Currently, the OCS designated in the Fourth Schedule refers only to social media services.

The regulation of social media services will apply to all content published on the internet, even those published before the date the amendments in the Bill come into law, so long as the content remains accessible to a Singapore end-user of the service on or after that date.

The definition of OCS, however, excludes some electronic services, such as transmissions of short text or multimedia messages.

“Egregious content”, offence, IMDA directions

The Bill defines “egregious content” to include the following content:

  • Advocating suicide or self-harm, physical or sexual violence and terrorism
  • Depicting child sexual exploitation
  • Posing public health risk in Singapore
  • Likely to cause racial and religious disharmony in Singapore

The Bill also provides that it is an offence if the OCS provider fails to stop where it knows, or ought reasonably to know, that it provides egregious content, and yet fails to comply with a section 45H direction.

The IMDA will be empowered to issue any of the following directions under section 45H to the OCS provider of egregious content:

  • To disable and prevent access by Singapore end-users
  • To stop delivery or communication of content to Singapore end-users

During the Consultation, industry groups requested flexibility on the timelines for content removal, taking into consideration the severity of the harmful content and the resources of the service. The MCI assured that the IMDA would clearly specify the egregious content of concern when issuing these directions to social media services, and the timeline will take into account the need to mitigate users’ exposure to the spread of egregious content on the services.

Additionally, if the IMDA is satisfied that an OCS provider, given either of the above section 45H directions, has failed to comply with that direction; and an internet access service has control over the Singapore end-user’s access to the content provided by the OCS provider, the IMDA may issue a section 45I blocking direction to the provider of that internet access service.

However, the Bill offers protections to providers of OCS or internet access services against civil and criminal liability for anything done (or omitted to be done) in the course of the OCS complying with a section 45H direction or section 45I blocking direction, if done with reasonable care and in good faith.

Failure to comply with the directions could be an offence, punishable on conviction with a fine of SGD 1 million for an OCS provider not complying with a section 45H direction and SGD 500,000 for an internet access service not complying with a section 45I direction.

Under the Bill, IMDA powers do not extend to private communications.

Codes of Conduct 

IMDA will designate an OCS with significant reach or impact in Singapore as a Regulated OCS (ROCS), subject to compliance with Codes of Practice (COPs) to be issued by IMDA under the BA. There is currently no legislative guidance on the meaning of “significant reach or impact.”

The COPs may require ROCS providers to put measures on their services in place to mitigate the risks of danger to Singapore users from exposure to harmful content and provide accountability to their users on such measures.

Section 45L(4) sets out the range of requirements that may be imposed by the COPs on ROCS providers, as follows:

  • Establishing systems or processes that the IMDA will consider appropriate to do the following:
    1. Prevent Singapore users (particularly children) from accessing content that presents a material risk of significant harm
    2. Mitigate and manage the risks of danger from content on its service to Singapore users
  • Complying with procedures such as the following:
    1. Preparing and submitting annual audits and accountability reports to ascertain compliance and report on the effectiveness of their measures to combat harmful content
    2. Reporting information to the IMDA about the measures they have implemented to ensure Singapore users can use their service in a safe manner
    3. Conducting risk assessments on the systemic risks brought about by the service and taking reasonable and effective measures aimed at mitigating those risks
  • Collaborating or cooperating with the conducting of research studies by IMDA-approved experts to allow IMDA to understand the nature and level of the inherent risks in the ROCS and the evolution and severity of these risks

The IMDA may also provide practical guidance on what content presents a “material risk of significant harm” to Singapore users, as the term “significant harm” is currently not defined.

Although the COPs will not have legislative effect, section 45M imposes a duty on every ROCS provider to take all reasonably practicable steps to comply with an applicable COP when issued. An ROCS provider that fails to do so may be liable for either of the following actions:

  • Ordered by the IMDA to pay a penalty of up to SGD 1 million
  • Directed to take steps to remedy the failure

Any non-compliance with IMDA’s direction to remedy is an offence, for which on conviction the ROCS provider will be liable for a fine.

Preparatory steps

The Second Reading of the Bill in Parliament is scheduled for November 2022, at which the Bill is expected to pass into law, likely with minimal or no changes, given the extensive industry and public consultations held by the MCI prior to drafting the Bill. The MCI has not yet released the commencement date for the amended BA.

In the meantime, the MCI has encouraged social media services to put in place systems and processes to safeguard against harmful online content. MCI has indicated it will adopt an outcome-based approach towards enhancing online safety that will provide social media services with some flexibility to develop and implement the most appropriate solutions to tackle harmful online content on their services, taking into account their unique operating models.

The MCI also encourages social media services to increase efforts to raise users’ awareness of the safety features available on their services, and to convey information on self-help resources to users.

One important feature will be providing young users and their parents and guardians with access to tools that enable them to manage exposure to harmful content and unwanted interactions. These include tools to limit the visibility of young users’ accounts to the public, and to restrict the people who can contact and interact with them.

We would be happy to provide you with specific advice tailored to your needs on how best to prepare for the incoming measures expected under the amended BA.

Author

Andy Leck is the head of the Intellectual Property and Technology (IPTech) Practice Group and a member of the Dispute Resolution Practice Group in Singapore. He is a core member of Baker McKenzie's regional IP practice and also leads the Myanmar IP Practice Group. Andy is recognised by reputable global industry and legal publications as a leader in his field. He was named on "The A-List: Singapore's Top 100 lawyers" by Asia Business Law Journal 2018. In addition, Chambers Asia Pacific notes that Andy is "a well-known IP practitioner who is highlighted for his record of handling major trade mark litigation, as well as commercial exploitation of IP rights in the media and technology sectors. He's been in the industry for a long time and has always been held in high regard. He is known to be very fair and is someone you would like to be in the trenches with you during negotiations." Furthermore, Asian Legal Business acknowledges Andy as a leading practitioner in his field and notes that he “always gives good, quick advice, [is] client-focused and has strong technical knowledge for his areas of practice.” Andy was appointed by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) as an IP Adjudicator to hear disputes at IPOS for a two-year term from April 2021. He has been an appointed member of the Singapore Copyright Tribunal since May 2010 and a mediator with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center. He is also appointed as a Notary Public & Commissioner for Oaths in Singapore. He previously served on the International Trademark Association’s Board of Directors and was a member of the executive committee.

Author

Ren Jun Lim is a principal with Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow. He represents local and international clients in both contentious and non-contentious intellectual property matters. He also advises on a full range of healthcare, as well as consumer goods-related legal and regulatory issues. Ren Jun co-leads Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow's Healthcare as well as Consumer Goods & Retail industry groups. He sits on the Law Society of Singapore IP Committee and on the Executive Committee of the Association of Information Security Professionals. He is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group, Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries, a member of the International Trademark Association, as well as a member of the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Association. Ren Jun is ranked in the Silver tier for Individuals: Enforcement and Litigation and Individuals: Prosecution and Strategy, and a recommended lawyer for Individuals: Transactions by WTR 1000, 2020. He is also listed in Asia IP's Best 50 IP Expert, 2020, recognised as a Rising Star by Managing IP: IP Stars, 2019 and one of Singapore's 70 most influential lawyers aged 40 and under by Singapore Business Review, 2016. Ren Jun was acknowledged by WTR 1000 as a "trademark connoisseur who boasts supplementary knowledge of regulatory issues in the consumer products industry." He was also commended by clients for being "very responsive to enquiries and with a keen eye for detail, he is extremely hands-on. His meticulous and in-depth approach to strategising is key to the excellent outcomes we enjoy."

Author

Ken Chia is a member of the Firm’s IP Tech, International Commercial & Trade and Competition Practice Groups. He is regularly ranked as a leading TMT and competition lawyer by top legal directories, including Chambers Asia Pacific and Legal 500 Asia Pacific. Ken is an IAPP Certified International Privacy Professional (FIP, CIPP(A), CIPT, CIPM) and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators.

Author

Alex is a local principal in the Intellectual Property & Technology Practice Group in Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow with over 13 years of experience. Alex is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/EU) by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), a certified AI Ethics and Governance Professional by the Singapore Computer Society and a member of the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Committee of the Law Society of Singapore. He holds a master's in law, science and technology from Stanford University.

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