[Featured] Braema as an alumnus of the Diplomacy Training Program

22 February 2022

Braema Mathiaparanam

Photo of Braema Mathi


Role: 
Secretary* of MARUAH

Active in Country: Singapore

DTP Trainer and Alumna: 2006 Migrant Workers Program – Malaysia as a participant and 2008 Migrant Workers Program – Philippines as a trainer

Braema Mathiaparanam is a prominent Singaporean human rights activist, a former journalist with Singapore’s most prestigious newspaper The Straits Times and an ex-Nominated Member of Singapore’s Parliament.

Braema began her human rights advocacy work in 1992. She has championed gender rights, LGBTQ rights, civil liberties (especially anti-death penalty campaign), political pluralism, and the rights of the migrant workers in Singapore. Braema participated in two DTP courses – on the rights of migrant workers, and on Business and Human Rights.   

With others she founded Maruah, a human rights NGO, and led the organisation for a number of years and is now its Secretary.* ‘Maruah’ in Malay, Singapore’s native language, means ‘dignity’. The organisation is also the Singapore civil society focal point to the Regional Working Group on ASEAN Human Rights Mechanisms.

Braema reflects that defending human rights in Singapore is complex and challenging, and a difficult path to take. Work on civil and political rights is particularly difficult, given legal restrictions.  

Singapore has ratified some of the core human rights treaties – but neither of the core conventions on Civil and Political Rights or Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Singapore is host, rather than home, to many migrant workers from elsewhere in Asia, and their treatment is one of the key human rights concerns. Singapore has not ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (CMW). Many of these migrant workers are women domestic workers and advocates have used the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which Singapore has ratified, to promote the rights of these domestic workers.

Despite the many challenges, Braema’s motivation remains high. She said if you are aware, often it stays with you. This stems from values built up within the home and reinforced in school.  

“When you grow up with this increased awareness, you see gaps, and you start thinking how to patch up the gaps,” said Braema.

She said one result of her attending the DTP training on defending the rights of migrant workers was to become more focused on including regional CSOs, diplomats, and representatives of the business sector in advocacy campaigns. She reached out to embassies of the countries sending migrant workers to Singapore to develop collaboration for the well-being of their citizens who are Singapore’s migrant workers.

“I contacted embassies such as Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Bangladesh, in the early years of working on migrant workers’ rights. Together we created a mutual-learning environment so that they could share and develop ways to offer more protection to their citizens working in Singapore.”  

They also encouraged embassies to also collaborate in defence of migrants and to learn from each others’ good practices. The embassies of Indonesia and Thailand introduced educational materials, booklets, and set up hotlines for the migrant workers as an outcome of this advocacy, following what they had learnt from Philippines.

Her reflections on DTP’s course on business and human rights is also highly positive. Before participating in the program, she said her knowledge of “business and human rights was very weak.” “I found that DTP program excellent and had effectively presented complex issues.”

“What was really good to learn,” she said, “was learning that European/OECD governments had specific commitments to guide the private sector on business and human rights – and the OECD Guidelines established National Contact Points that could hear complaints.”

As a whole she thinks the DTP training facilitators and the core content experts were excellent in mapping out the basic theories and the advanced knowledge that activists needed to know to spearhead their activism on the ground.

“It was intense upliftment in terms of knowledge from experts, an open discourse where I had many opportunities to ask questions and understand issues better, plus a reading list. All which help you to move fast in a short period.”

Braema thinks that against the backdrop of the renewed global attention on climate change, DTP does have the potential to expand its training work on climate change, business, and human rights. She said corporate social responsibility (CSR), is still the dominant mindset in the corporate sector. “This mindset needs to be pushed out to connect effectively with climate change. Business and human rights, sustainability frameworks, worker’s rights, meeting people’s basic needs to food, water are all taking centrestage now, more than ever before Perhaps DTP could ponder expanding its program into this sector,” Braema suggested.

“I still have all my DTP training files on my shelf. Anytime I’m unsure. I pull out those files to clarify. Or If I need to contacts to participants, I look into those files, to check on the participants’ lists,” said Braema.


*At time of profile in December 2021. Braema stepped down as Secretary in Jan 2022 but remains active in Maruah.


[Amnesty International] Myanmar: World must act now to prevent another year of intolerable ‘death and misery’

6 February 2022

27 January 2022

If the international community continues to drag its feet on the grave human rights violations including lethal violence targeted at protestors that we have seen in Myanmar this past year, many more people will suffer and this human rights crisis could worsen, Amnesty International said today ahead of the one-year anniversary of the 1 February, 2021 coup.

“Enough is enough, the 55 million people of Myanmar cannot afford another year of wavering and sitting on the sidelines by many governments around the world. Concrete action aimed at holding the military accountable and preventing their access to weaponry used to commit widespread human rights abuses must be taken now or the shocking death and misery that have defined life in Myanmar since the coup is likely to persist,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns.

“As the anniversary of the coup draws near, the military has launched indiscriminate air strikes that have killed civilians in the southeast, blocked life-saving aid, and kept up a bloody campaign against activists and journalists, who have been detained and killed in custody. Too many governments continue turning a blind eye to all these atrocities, as they did following the gross violations of human rights against the Rohingya people. As a result, the military has been increasingly brazen, acting with impunity in its efforts to wipe out any resistance to its rule.

“The Myanmar people are desperate and have become disillusioned about help from the international community. But there are clear steps that need to be taken to prevent the Myanmar military from maintaining its dystopian campaign of terror and persecution. The UN Security Council must stop dragging its feet, and instead impose a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions against military leaders, and urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

“In addition, all local and foreign companies in business partnerships with the military or military-owned businesses need to responsibly disengage, cutting the flow of funds that the military uses to prop up its lethal operations.

“Closer to home, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must present a unified front on Myanmar and demand the military to immediately stop the violence against civilians. The ASEAN should also exert pressure on the military to stop blocking humanitarian access and expand on and implement with a clear timeline its five-point consensus adopted last year, which has proved a failure.

“The new year must bring new approaches to Myanmar, placing human rights for the people of Myanmar, accountability, and a zero tolerance to human rights violations and abuses at the forefront.”

Background:

Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup in the early hours of 1 February, 2021. Since then it has killed more than 1,400 people and arrested more than 11,000, with over 8,000 currently in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The shocking violence fits into a long history of well-documented crimes under international law against ethnic minorities in the country, including the Kachin, Shan and Rohingya.

The UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has previously called for Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior officials to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to six years on bogus charges and faces more than 100 years if convicted on all the counts against her. Many of her closest allies, including President Win Myint, have also been convicted on similarly trumped-up charges.

Following the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, some opponents of the military authorities have established the armed People’s Defense Force, which claims to have killed hundreds of soldiers through shootings, bombs and ambushes.

On top of the chaos that has gripped major cities and towns across the country in the aftermath of the coup, economic and food insecurity as well as pandemic-related challenges have caused millions to face hunger. Hundreds of thousands have also been internally displaced while thousands have fled across the border to Thailand.


Human Rights Day 2021 – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”

10 December 2021

[Webinar] Voices of Democracy: Civil Societies and the UN

18 November 2021

Ever wondered what the UPR was? Every few years, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council sets about examining the human rights records of all UN Member States. Join changemakers from Pink Dot and MARUAH for an online panel discussion about the role of the UPR in Singaporean advocacy, policymaking and discourse this Friday, Nov 19, from 3pm-5pm! Proudly organised by the Yale-NUS/NUS Community for Advocacy and Political Education (CAPE)


Sign up at bit.ly/UPRCAPE or scan the QR code


[ICJ] Singapore: Withdraw Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill 

14 October 2021

OCTOBER 13, 2021https://www.icj.org/singapore-withdraw-foreign-interference-countermeasures-bill/

Today, ICJ and nine others organizations called on the Government of Singapore to withdraw the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (‘FICA’). FICA’s provisions contravene international legal and human rights principles – including the rights to freedom of expression, association, participation in public affairs, and privacy – and will further curtail civic space, both online and offline.

On October 4, 2021, the Parliament of Singapore passed FICA, three weeks after it was tabled on September 13 by the Ministry of Home Affairs purportedly to “prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in (…) domestic politics”. This was despite serious concerns that the law could undermine civic freedoms – raised by members of the publiccivil societylegal fraternityindependent mediapolitical oppositionacademia and industry in Singapore. The bill went through both its second and third readings in one parliament sitting and FICA was passed without significant amendments to address key concerns.

While the protection of national security may be a legitimate aim, FICA contravenes the rule of law and the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality under international human rights law. Overbroad and ambiguous provisions draw within its scope a wide range of conduct, activities and communications “directed towards a political end in Singapore”. As a result, almost any form of expression and association relating to politics, social justice or other matters of public interest in Singapore may be ensnarled within the ambit of the legislation – making it difficult, in turn, for the average individual to reasonably predict with precision what conduct may fall foul of the law. Vague provisions also allow for unfettered executive discretion in interpretation and implementation of the law. Unlimited executive discretion – together with severe penalties under the law – can result in executive overreach into what it deems permissible as civic discussion and public debate. FICA also provides no mechanism for independent judicial oversight or provision of remedy where human rights violations occur as a result of the enforcement of its provisions. The law thus fails to provide for the least intrusive mechanisms to achieve its stated aim of protecting national security while greatly enhancing the risk of executive abuse.

FICA empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to order the removal or disabling of online content – undermining the right to freedom of expression. The Minister is, for example, empowered to order publication of mandatory messages drafted by the authorities, ban apps from being downloadable in Singapore, and order disclosure of private communications and information, when the Minister “suspects or believes” that someone is undertaking or planning to undertake online communications activity “on behalf of a foreign principal”, and that it is in the “public interest” to act. The law makes it a criminal offence to undertake “clandestine” electronic communications on behalf of a foreign principal under certain circumstances, including when that activity “diminishes or is likely to diminish public confidence in (…) the Government or a public authority” or “is likely to be directed towards a political end in Singapore”. Activity “directed towards a public end” includes conduct influencing or seeking to influence government decisions or public opinion on matters of “public controversy” or “political debate” in Singapore. The government can also designate individuals as “politically significant persons” after which they can be required to follow strict limits on sources of funding and disclose all links with foreigners or foreign entities.

FICA’s provisions can also facilitate violations of the rights to freedom of association and participation in public affairs. “Conduct” committed in connection with a “foreign principal” and “directed towards a political end in Singapore” is criminalized where this involves “covert” communication or “deception” – which is defined as including any “deliberate” use of “encrypted communication platforms”. The expansive and vaguely worded definition of activities “directed towards a political end” can cover a broad range of activities – including social justice advocacy, artistic commentary, academic research, social enterprise or journalistic reporting – carried out by, among others, members of civil society, academia, media, the arts and industry. Meanwhile, the overbroad configuration of connection with a “foreign principal” as “arrangements” with any “foreigner” or “non-Singapore registered entity” that can be “written or unwritten” brings within the law’s remit nearly all forms of cross-border collaboration or engagement. Use of “encrypted platforms” as a reflection of “covert” communications also allows for criminal intent to be inferred from a wide range of modes of communications via modern electronic devices and platforms – including through encrypted messaging and email services; and the use of online platforms through secure connection services, such as virtual private networks (VPNs).

FICA will disproportionately impact members of civil society, independent journalists, academics, researchers, artists, writers and other individuals who express opinions, share information and collaborate to advocate on socio-political issues and matters of public interest. As their work can involve critical opinions and is often underpinned and supported by cross-border collaboration, research and funding, they are exposed to increased scrutiny and sanctions under FICA. The issues on which they work will also come under increased State oversight and control. Executive oversight and control can, in turn, infringe not only their rights to freedom of expression and association but the rights of other individuals in Singapore who rely on their work to participate in public affairs, which includes conduct of citizens to “exert influence through public debate and dialogue with their representatives or through their capacity to organize”.

Severe penalties under FICA are disproportionate. In addition, many of those penalties may be imposed without adequate independent oversight or remedy in case of human rights violations, which can result in a chilling effect on civic space and discussion. Directions can be issued by the authorities to censor, restrict or block access to online content, accounts, services, apps or locations deemed to violate the law. The law also allows for the authorities to designate “politically significant” individuals and entities and order them to “disclose foreign affiliations” and “arrangements” or to end “reportable arrangements”. However, there is a lack of independent oversight over these restrictions and designations. These directions may only be appealed to a Reviewing Tribunal appointed by the President on advice of the Cabinet, and decisions made by this Tribunal cannot be appealed to the High Court except for non-compliance with procedural requirements. Further, individuals can face criminal sanctions under the law for “clandestine foreign interference by electronic communications activity” and non-compliance with directions, which may result in steep fines and imprisonment terms. These criminal offences are arrestable and non-bailable.

These penalties and restrictions not only risk undermining the right to privacy, but increase the risk of individuals self-censoring and deliberately deciding not to participate in or engage with cross-border networks to avoid potentially falling foul of the law. Their negative impacts can be particularly severe on independent online platforms, which can be banned from receiving funding or other financial support from foreign individuals or entities, and on journalists, political commentators, civil society members and community researchers who often nurture public opinion and debate through information, opinions and advocacy shared online.

In light of these significant concerns, we request that the Government of Singapore withdraw FICA. The law risks imminently and substantially narrowing already limited civic space in the country – particularly where this space is significantly restricted through abuse of other existing laws such as defamation and contempt of court provisions; the Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), the Public Order Act and the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act. The imminent enactment and future enforcement of FICA will significantly undermine the Government of Singapore’s obligations under international law to protect, promote and fulfil human rights – instead allowing for the State to expand curtailment of civic freedoms to the detriment of its people.

Signatories

Access Now

Amnesty International

ARTICLE 19

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Digital Defenders Partnership

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Download

Full statement with a summary legal analysis, click here.

Contact

Osama Motiwala, ICJ Asia-Pacific Communications Officer, t: +66-62-702-6369 e: osama.motiwala(a)icj.org


[Straits Times – Opinion] Forum: Concerns arise from misunderstanding of Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (reply by Ministry of Home Affairs)

2 October 2021

PUBLISHED OCT 2, 2021, 12:00 AM SGThttps://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.

Sam Tee
Senior Director, Joint Operations Group
Ministry of Home Affairs


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

2 October 2021

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


[Straits Times – Opinion] Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern (by Harpreet Singh Nehal)

2 October 2021

PUBLISHED SEP 28, 2021, 5:00 AM SGT – https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-3-areas-of-concern

The Fica Bill as currently drafted is problematic because of its extremely broad language, restrictions on judicial review and questionable procedural rules.

The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (Fica) was recently introduced in Parliament. It seeks to reduce the risk of acts of foreign interference by strengthening the Government’s ability to prevent, detect and disrupt such interference.

The Bill creates new offences which target clandestine online activity. It also imposes substantial financial reporting obligations on politically significant persons, as well as obligations on parties providing social media services and online content.

Foreign interference is a matter of growing concern, especially for small states, in a fast-changing geopolitical context where significant players are seeking to strengthen their reach and carve out spheres of influence. Any responsible government needs to be adequately equipped to protect the public interest by counteracting such acts of foreign interference.

The challenge is to craft balanced legislation that effectively addresses undesirable foreign influence while not curtailing legitimate citizen-led activity. Here are three aspects of the Bill which give cause for grave concern.

For the rest of the article, please visit https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-3-areas-of-concern


MARUAH’s Statement on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill

2 October 2021

Please click here to download MARUAH’s statement in PDF.


[TODAY] Beware of collateral damage of Fica

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

Earlier this month, the Government tabled a Bill to enact the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica).

The legislation, if passed, will provide the Government with the powers to act against foreign interference that comes in the forms of hostile information campaigns and local proxies by foreign entities.

The Bill is underscored by the recognition that foreign interference takes place in both online and offline settings.

The swathe of provisions proposed will provide the Government, specifically the Minister for Home Affairs, with different mechanisms to prevent, detect and disrupt actions by foreign actors who interfere with domestic politics through influence operations.

The directives will be issued to social media companies, electronic services such as instant messaging apps and Internet access providers, and individuals who own or manage websites and blogs.

Given the rise of influence operations — also known as cyber-enabled foreign interference — globally, this Bill does not come as a surprise.

However, while Fica upgrades the Government’s arsenal to counter foreign interference in a digitalised age, it should not do so at the expense of people’s trust in the Government and diminish Singapore’s position as a global hub.

FIGHTING AN EVOLVING THREAT

Tabled two years after the passing of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), some might wonder what took Singapore so long to legislate against influence operations, given the prevalence of the problem in other countries.

In the past few years, countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States have introduced or passed bills to curtail foreign interference in elections and infrastructures.

The rapidly evolving nature of influence operations — in terms of the who, how and why — renders existing laws such as Pofma and the Political Donations Act toothless in countering hostile foreign actors.

There is a tendency for people to think of foreign powers as the main perpetrators of foreign influence.

The trend is evident from actions that have been taken by social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google (YouTube) to eradicate inauthentic behaviour originating from Russia, Iran, China and Turkey in the past few years.

However, hostile actors are not limited to foreign governments.

Facebook recently shared that most of the covert influence operations in Asia-Pacific are domestic. Research conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute uncovered “apolitical disinformation entrepreneurs” as masterminds.

The toolbox used by perpetrators of influence operations has also expanded.

While the “basic” and more crude forms of tactics, such as bots and fake accounts, are still being used, more covert techniques such as buzz accounts and pop culture fan communities are emerging.

Furthermore, hostile actors are often very adept at mixing and matching tactics, combining them to achieve devastating consequences.

PROTECTING PUBLIC TRUST AND GLOBAL HUB STATUS

To detect, disrupt and stop hostile information campaigns, the Bill includes a wide range of directives.

These include directing social media platforms to disclose information even before the content is published, requiring a person or an Internet intermediary to stop communicating hostile information campaign contents, and requiring services and platforms to restrict the dissemination of such additional content.

Internet service providers can also be ordered to block access to content.

Since the first reading of the Fica Bill, concerns have been raised by different quarters pertaining to the overly broad and expansive definitions of foreign interference and what constitutes political activities.

A petition against Fica which calls for more public consultation via a multi-party parliamentary Select Committee has also been launched.

A provision that merits special discussion is the Technical Assistance Direction that will allow the Government to act on an anticipatory basis.

Research on rumours and conspiracy theories found that the inoculation strategy — exposing individuals to fallacies to prepare them — has been shown to heighten people’s vigilance and scepticism towards false information.

While this directive will help the Government prevent the slow drip effect of influence operations and make a pre-emptive strike as soon as it is aware of suspicious activities, there could be concerns about its opacity and potential overreach.

According to the Bill, a “Technical Assistance Direction can be issued if the Minister suspects that there are preparations or plans to undertake an online communication activity in Singapore by or on behalf of a foreign principal, and the Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to issue the direction”.

The ongoing tussle between the Indian government and WhatsApp over a new law that requires the platform to identify the “first originator of information” when the authorities demand it highlights the potential pushback.

While the Indian government emphasises that the law will only be used to unmask people credibly accused of wrongdoing, WhatsApp has said that the law would require it to break encryption for message receivers as well as message originators.

This will potentially breach privacy protections on the platform.

Fica should specify the situations and the purposes that warrant the issuance of such a direction, or other directions for the matter.

This will help put the public’s mind at ease and promote cooperation from tech platforms.

At the international level, the Government needs to consider the potential effects Fica might have on Singapore as an international hub as well as criticisms about the lack of clarity on what “collaboration” entails.

Part of the wonder of cyberspace is its transboundary nature which makes collaborations on an unprecedented scale possible.

It has spurred the growth of the digital economy, sparked entrepreneurship, advanced academic collaboration and scholarship, and strengthened political alliances.

For example, the free-flowing exchange of ideas and resources form the backbone of the global climate movement.

The movement sparked off the people’s climate march, industry-wide climate activism efforts in different countries as well as grassroots campaigns.

While one cannot establish causation, the sharp gain in the momentum of transnational collaboration could have contributed to the energised global action on climate change.

Therefore, the definition of foreign interference and its measurements would have to be sharp and clear so as not to diminish Singapore’s position as a node in the global network of collaboration and creation.

Since the first reading of the Fica Bill, legal practitioners, activists and academics have raised concerns and offered suggestions on how to refine the Bill.

The Government should take heed and consider how it can strengthen the proposed Act so that it can keep foreign interference at bay while safeguarding people’s trust in it and Singapore’s hub status.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr Carol Soon is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies where she heads the Society and Culture department.

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/beware-collateral-damage-fica