[Straits Times – Opinion] Anti-foreign interference Bill – a sharper tool for the digital age [by Ong Keng Yong and Stanley Lai]

PUBLISHED OCT 1, 2021, 5:00 AM SGT – https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-a-sharper-tool-for-the-digital-age

A rebuttal to points raised about over-broad language and restrictions on courts’ role

We refer to the article “Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern” by Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal in The Straits Times on Tuesday. We wish to share our perspectives on the subject and respond to some of the points he makes.

Mr Singh makes two primary points in his articulation of concerns about the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica).

First, he says the Bill suffers from “extremely broad language” and risks capturing “perfectly legitimate collaborative activities” undertaken by Singapore citizens and local non-governmental organisations.

Second, he says that the Bill “restricts the role of the Singapore courts to review the legality of the Government’s exercise of powers”. Instead, appeals against Part 3 directions provided for under the Bill are made to a reviewing tribunal, which is governed by its own procedural rules.

We do not agree with his interpretation of the Bill.

As regards the “broad language” of Fica, we do not see how the examples of “legitimate” collaborations with foreigners referred to by Mr Singh in his article can be proscribed under the Bill. (He cites public policy issues such as climate change and women’s rights).

One of the key purposes of the Bill is the protection of the public interest. It includes countermeasures against hostile information campaigns on electronic platforms.

However, before the powers under the Bill can be invoked, the following conditions must be met: First, there is an online communications activity, or planning for such an activity. Second, the activity is conducted by or on behalf of a foreign principal. Third, it must be determined that it is in the public interest for a direction (provided in the Bill) to be issued.

The Bill prescribes a statutory regimen requiring a foreign element, and it also must be considered necessary to protect the public interest against this foreign interference.

For the rest of the article, please visit https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-a-sharper-tool-for-the-digital-age

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