[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


[TODAY] Draft foreign interference law: Workers’ Party proposes changes to prevent abuse and enhance oversight over powers

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

  • A draft law to protect Singapore from foreign interference gives the Government power to deal with such acts
  • The Workers’ Party said it believes in countering foreign threats, but disagrees on the Bill’s wording 
  • The party’s parliamentarians filed a notice to amend the Bill
  • One proposed change is to exempt activities where foreign individuals or publications comment on Singapore politics in an “open, transparent and attributable way”

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/workers-party-disagrees-proposed-foreign-interference-law-files-changes-prevent-abuse-and-enhance-oversight-powers


[change.org] Say no to unfettered power! Rethink FICA!

30 September 2021

Sign this petition now!

Singapore’s proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) is an overly broad law that grants the Minister for Home Affairs vast powers, with serious repercussions for civil society, independent media, and public discourse.

The bill was introduced in Parliament on 13 September 2021, with its second reading scheduled for 4 October 2021.

We, the undersigned, would like to express the following concerns:

1. An overly broad, expansive law

FICA contains extremely broad definitions that serve as a catch-all for a wide range of activities. If enacted, the law will have serious ramifications for multiple stakeholders and large sections of society, including academia, business, civil society, and the media.

2. Powers to censor, impose restrictions, and demand information

FICA allows the Minister for Home Affairs vast powers to issue directives that can censor online content and even shut down media outlets. All that is required for the issuance of such directions is for the Minister to be of the opinion that online communications activity has been undertaken, or has been suspected of being undertaken, on behalf of a foreign principal, and that it is in the public interest to take action. Compliance with these directions are mandatory; failure to comply will attract heavy fines and/or imprisonment. The offence of non-compliance is arrestable and non-bailable.

The Minister can also declare an online location a “proscribed online location”. This would then make it illegal to monetise, finance, or form commercial partnerships with the platform. In other words, the Minister can effectively shut down any independent media business or initiative by cutting off its sources of funding.

The proposed legislation allows an authority appointed by the Minister to designate individuals or entities “politically significant persons”, who are then subject to reporting obligations and restrictions regarding donations. This designation can only be appealed to the Minister who appointed the authority in the first place.

FICA also grants authorities the right to demand information from any individual, whether inside Singapore or out, for enforcement purposes. Such a broad power can lead to gross violations of privacy.

3. Absence of meaningful oversight of powers granted under FICA

FICA limits the sources of appeal for the exercise of powers under the bill. Appeals are first directed to the Minister for Home Affairs, who can also choose not to consider an appeal if he deems it “frivolous or vexatious”.

The second source of appeal, the Reviewing Tribunal, is appointed by the President on the advice of the Cabinet. However, the Minister for Home Affairs makes the rules followed by the Reviewing Tribunal.

FICA further restricts judicial review in open court to only procedural matters.

4. Our demands

FICA, in its current state, is an example of state overreach without adequate oversight. Given the serious ramifications that such a wide-ranging law will have on multiple segments of society, it is crucial that such a bill be closely scrutinised and thoroughly debated before any decision can be taken as to whether such a far-reaching piece of legislation is even necessary.

It is therefore unacceptable that the bill – which is 249 pages long – is scheduled for its second, and likely third, reading on 4 October. That’s a mere three weeks after it was first introduced in Parliament. This is nowhere near enough time for Members of Parliament, as well as Singaporeans, to have read, analysed, and be consulted on the proposed law.

A multi-party Select Committee should instead be appointed to carry out extensive public consultation on the issue of “foreign interference”. The term should be clearly defined, and measures enacted should take into consideration with best practices in accordance with international human rights standards.

While legislation to combat malign foreign interference is not inherently unreasonable, national security should not be seen as an excuse to concentrate power in the hands of the state. Any law that is enacted should therefore not be overly broad and ambiguous, but targeted, precise, and subject to adequate oversight and restraints on power.


[TODAY] Draft law doesn’t bar meetings by groups with foreigners who have no control over them: MHA

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 26, 2021

  • MHA made these clarifications in response to concerns from human rights groups Maruah and Think Centre
  • They had questioned whether their activities will come under greater scrutiny under the proposed law on foreign interference
  • MHA said the intent of Fica is not to stifle political expression or activity but to prevent foreign influence via local proxies 

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/draft-foreign-interference-law-does-not-bar-meetings-maruah-and-think-centre-foreigners-no


Dr Tan Cheng Bock on the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021

30 September 2021

38th Session of the Universal Periodic Review – Review of Singapore [Wed 12 May 3 – 6.30pm (SG time)]

9 May 2021

The Review of Singapore will be broadcast live at http://webtv.un.org/.

Please click here to add a reminder to watch the review live on UN Web TV.


What is the Universal Periodic Review?

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. 

As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed. The ultimate aim of this mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists.

Please click here for more information on the UPR.


IN SOLIDARITY: A CALL FOR ALL PEOPLE IN ASEAN

22 March 2021

(Update – 27 March) – Thank you to everyone who have shared the word, contributed to the collage or are doing your part to spread the word and show support for the people in Myanmar.

We have created a collage based on submissions from our readers. Please do share this video collage with those around you.


THIS CHAPTER: A IN SOLIDARITY CALL TO ALL PEOPLE IN SINGAPORE

Dear Everyone,

We are trying to get MANY, MANY people in Singapore to show their support for the people in Myanmar.

These are the details:

  • February 1st the military (Tatmadaw) in a coup d’état took over rule from an elected government, disregarding the results, the positive comments made by international elections observers or the work done by the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH)
  • They arrested many elected political leaders, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Millions of Myanmarese protested, many stopped work to join the civil disobedience movement (CDM) to fight for their democracy, freedom and justice. Many young and older persons have said that they are ready to die for their country and freedom.
  • To date (March 21st) 235 people have been killed, mainly from shots to their heads.  Many more injured. More than 2,330 people have been arrested. Myanmar is under martial law set by the military
  • The military is relentless in targeting people, communities, killings, destroying the CDM’s barricades in the many cities around the country and in forcing threatening people to be their human shields in the work against protesters.
  • Some countries have stated they are not recognising the Tatmadaw as the government of Myanmar. Some have imposed sanctions. United Nations has issued statements. So has ASEAN. Some ASEAN member countries have issued stronger statements on this situation. But thoughtful and concerted action remains limited.
  • Some Links given below give a clearer picture of the situation.

What we are asking from you:

A call has been made to people in ASEAN to show solidarity with the people in Myanmar.

As people living in Singapore, we hope you will believe in supporting the people in Myanmar. If so, please do this:

  • take a photo of yourself, holding up the 3-finger salute that Myanmarese are using.
  • Do not make the photo larger than 1megabytes
  • Please send it to maruahsg@gmail.com with the subject – In Solidarity with Myanmar (Photo collage)
  • Please indicate a name in English, if you like, otherwise, the subtitled image will be left anonymous.
  • MARUAH Singapore reserves the right to reject images that are offensive and prejudicial to the intent and spirit of this request.
  • Please submit your photos  by Thursday 25th March by 10.00 pm.
  • Sample image (taken from the Internet)

The collage will be created with some of the following statements:

From Singapore: IN SOLIDARITY With The People In Myanmar

WE ARE:

# AGAINST the Coup d’état and Military takeover in Myanmar

# AGAINST the escalating armed violence by the military

# AGAINST people being killed and injured

#AGAINST Imprisonment, Tortures, Deaths of political leaders, activists, journalists, protesters

# AGAINST THE LACK OF ACTION by International, Regional communities

# FOR Democracy

# FOR Rule of Law

# FOR Humanitarian Aid for the injured and food for the people

# FOR China and Russia to not veto and join the UN Security Council to denounce the military takeover and support action against the military for the coup and the violence

# FOR Targeted Economic Sanctions, Global Travel Bans and Asset Freezes by Governments, Banks and the Private Sector when it comes to military personnel, military-owned companies within the Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Companies and Myanmar Economic Corporation

# FOR a global arms embargo to block supplies and sales of weaponry to the military and other armed groups

Sources:
https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-regime-issues-arrest-warrant-crph-intl-envoy-treason-charge.html
https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/how-the-cdm-can-win/
https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2021/march/what-next-for-burma
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdEyuic_SrM&t=3232s
https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/15/targeted-sanctions-needed-against-myanmars-coup-leaders
https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2021-03-15/statement%C2%A0attributable-the-spokesperson-for-the%C2%A0secretary-general-myanmar
https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086962
http://www.asean2021.bn/Theme/news/iamm-02.03.21.aspx
https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/asean-foreign-ministers-meet-to-discuss-myanmar-crisis/
https://www.mfa.gov.sg/Newsroom/Press-Statements-Transcripts-and-Photos/2021/03/20210322-Min-visit-to-Brunei
https://www.straitstimes.com/world/united-states/un-security-council-agrees-to-condemn-myanmar-violence-urge-military-restraint
https://maruah.org/2021/02/11/statement-of-foreboding-over-the-military-takeover-of-the-government-of-myanmar/

MARUAH is coordinating this In Solidarity action. About MARUAH: https://maruah.org/about/


[Repost] Article by MARUAH Secretary Braema Mathi in Q1 2021 edition of “Directors Bulletin” published by the Singapore Institute of Directors

6 January 2021

This article first appeared in the Q1 2021 issue of the SID Directors Bulletin published by the Singapore Institute of Directors. Please click on the excerpt below for Braema’s full article.


(Updated with slides) The Public Order Act and its disempowering effect on Singapore – Sunday, 20 December 2020

10 December 2020

Please click on the links below to access a copy of the slides used by the speakers during their presentation.

Presentation by Priscilla Chia – “Public Order Act – Criminalising civil disobedience?”

Presentation by Howard Lee – “The Public Order Act – Media Analysis & Impact”

Once again, we thank our speakers, Ms Priscilla Chia and Mr Howard Lee, and all participants for making time this afternoon to discuss the impact of the misuse of the Public Order Act on political and social discourse in our country.

We look forward to having you join us again at our next event. Please keep a lookout on our Facebook page or here on this website for updates.

MARUAH Secretariat


[Repost] Southeast Asian Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief – Newsletter | July – December 2020

10 December 2020

MPs call for ASEAN’s joint action on freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia

On 2 December, parliamentarians from Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand came together to discuss ways to increase collaboration to advance freedom of religion or belief in Southeast Asia. The parliamentarians are part of the Southeast Asia Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEAPFoRB), a working group of parliamentarians committed to improving freedom of religion or belief in the region. 

Among the many issues, parliamentarians discussed the rise of religious intolerance, hate speech and violent extremism, the discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, increased ethnoreligious nationalism, and the politicization of religion. Some challenges have worsened during the COVID-19, particularly scapegoating and hate speech against religious minorities, and increased restrictions on religious worship under the pretext of social distancing, SEAPFoRB members said. 

The SEAPFoRB virtual meeting 2020 was hosted by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) 

Read the statement here.

For the rest of the newsletter, please click here.