PUBLISHED OCT 2, 2021, 12:00 AM SGT – https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/forum/forum-concerns-arise-from-misunderstanding-of-foreign-interference-countermeasures
Mr Harpreet Singh Nehal expressed some concerns on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern, Sept 28).
Mr Singh’s concerns arise from a basic misunderstanding of the Bill and its provisions.
He says that the broad language of the Bill may capture “perfectly legitimate collaborative activity” undertaken by Singapore citizens and non-governmental organisations, which seek to “influence and improve” our laws and policies.
He also says that directions under Part 3 of the Bill could be issued against “legitimate online activity”, even in the absence of any manipulation or influence by a foreign government or its agents.
These assertions are quite inaccurate.
The Bill does not apply to Singaporeans discussing issues, or advocating any matter (regardless of what the Government or anyone else thinks about that).
The Bill will also not cover the vast array of collaborations between Singaporeans and foreigners, on many matters.
However, if a Singaporean acts on behalf of a foreign principal, and if such actions are contrary to public interest, then directions can be issued to such a person.
One example of this would be if a foreign government agency pays a Singaporean to conduct an online campaign, to create discord and unrest among Singaporeans. Such modus operandi have been repeatedly used around the world.
If the above involves covert activity, the persons involved can be prosecuted.
The philosophy underpinning the Bill is a longstanding one – we should not allow foreign subversion of our country and society.
The Bill complements our existing legislation, by providing a targeted and calibrated approach to be used against hostile information campaigns, conducted by foreign agencies and foreigners.
More information on the Bill can be found on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ website: https://www.mha.gov.sg/mediaroom/press-releases/first-reading-of-foreign…
Mr Singh also says that the Bill restricts the role of the Singapore courts to review some actions.
The offences in the Bill relating to criminal conduct are all required to be prosecuted in the courts.
For directions against hostile information campaigns, the oversight will be by a tribunal, headed by a Supreme Court Judge.
Such provisions are not new, and exist in several pieces of legislation.
The matters to be considered in the issuance of directions, (including information obtained through intelligence) may often have to be kept highly confidential.
The courts have also recognised, on several occasions, including in the Nagaenthran case (which Mr Singh refers to), that the judicial process may not be best suited to deal with such issues. Instead, as stated earlier, a tribunal headed by a High Court judge will deal with these matters.
Senior Director, Joint Operations Group
Ministry of Home Affairs