On 8 May 2023, the Online Criminal Harms Bill (“Bill“) was introduced for its first reading in the Parliament. The Bill follows a suite of legislation aimed at protecting the public from harms in the online space, and introduces mechanisms for authorities to more effectively tackle online criminal activity.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) noted the recent increase of scams and malicious cyber activities such as offering attractive investments, jobs and product deals, as well as the dissemination of voyeuristic images, online child sexual exploitation and the sale of drugs. In particular, approximately 8,500 phishing attempts were reported to the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (“SingCERT“) in 2022, more than double the number of cases reported in 2021.
The Bill will allow the government to issue directions to any online service where there is a reasonable suspicion that the service is being used to conduct criminal activity (“Government Directions“). It will also create a framework to strengthen partnership with online services to proactively disrupt scams and malicious cyber activities affecting people in Singapore.
In more detail
When Government Directions may be issued
To counter the scale and speed achievable by criminal actors, the government seeks to take a proactive approach through the Bill. The threshold for taking action will therefore be lowered through the Bill, where Government Directions may be issued when it is suspected that any website, online account or online activity may be used for criminal activity.
Specified criminal offenses under the Bill include those relating to the following:
- Terrorism and internal security
- Harmony between different races, religion or classes of the population
- Incitement of violence or counselling disobedience to the law
- Secrecy of government information under the Official Secrets Act and other laws
- Psychoactive substances, controlled drugs or narcotics, including trafficking
- Unlawful gambling
- Illegal moneylending
- Scams and malicious cyber activities
- Sexual offenses (e.g., distribution of child sexual abuse material, distribution of voyeuristic and intimate images without consent)
What Government Directions may be issued
Depending on the content and recipient, a total of five types of Government Directions may be issued under the Bill:
- Stop communication direction. This requires persons who have control of the relevant material or proprietor of the online location (i.e. persons and entities who communicated online content) to stop communicating the specified online content to people in Singapore, whether by removing the relevant material; stopping the storing, posting, providing or transmitting of any online material similar to the relevant material; or disabling access to the relevant online location.
- Disabling direction. This requires online service providers (excluding internet access service or app distribution service) to disable access to specified content (e.g., a post or page) on their service to people in Singapore, including the disabling of access to such material, any identical copies of the relevant material, or any relevant online location.
- Account restriction direction. This requires online service providers to disallow or restrict interaction of an account on their service from communicating with people in Singapore, whether by terminating, suspending or restricting functionalities in relation to that online account.
- Access blocking direction. This requires internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to an online location, such as a web domain, from the view of people in Singapore.
- App removal direction. This requires app stores to remove an app from its Singapore storefront to stop further downloads of the app by people in Singapore.
Codes of practice and directives
The framework proposed by the Bill also allows the Singapore Police Force to issue codes of practice for designated online service providers, which will vary depending on the nature of the online service and may require them to implement systems, processes and measures with the following aims:
- Enabling partnerships with the government to proactively deal with scams and malicious cyber activity
- Preventing scams and malicious cyber activities on the services
- Supporting enforcement actions against such crimes
The penalties under the Bill are as follows:
- Noncompliance with a stop communication direction: fine of up to SGD 20,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years for individuals; fine of up to SGD 500,000 for companies
- Noncompliance with a disabling direction or account restriction direction: fine of up to SGD 20,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months, and in the case of a continuing offense, a further fine of up to SGD 100,000 for every day (or part of a day) during which the offense continues after conviction; fine of up to SGD 1 million, and in the case of a continuing offense, a further fine of up to SGD 100,000 for every day (or part of a day) during which the offense continues after conviction
- Noncompliance with an access blocking direction or app removal direction: fine of up to SGD 20,000 for every day (or part of a day) that the person, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with any requirement of the direction, but not exceeding SGD 500,000.
Online service providers and originators of the online activity affected by a direction may appeal to a Reviewing Tribunal to adjust or cancel the direction.
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The Bill is set for a second reading during Parliament’s next session, which is scheduled to take place in July 2023. Businesses are advised to take note of developments on the Bill. For further information and to discuss what this Bill might mean for you, please get in touch with your usual Baker McKenzie contact.
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