On May 8, 2023, the Online Criminal Harms Bill[1] (Bill) was introduced for its first reading in Singapore’s Parliament.

The Bill empowers a competent public authority[2] to issue any of five distinct types of directions:

  1. A Stop Communication Direction, which requires a person or entity to remove, stop posting or transmitting, and/or disable access to online criminal content so it is not accessible by any persons in Singapore.
  2. A Disabling Direction, which requires an online service provider (such as a social media platform or instant messaging provider) to disable access to specified content, such as material that had been posted or transmitted on or through an online service. This extends to disabling access to any identical copies of the relevant material, as well as to any location on the online service from where the content could be retrieved.
  3. An Access Blocking Direction, which requires an internet service provider to block access by persons in Singapore to any material or location such as a website.
  4. An Account Restriction Direction, which requires an online service provider to stop or restrict interaction between an account on its online service from communicating and interacting with any persons in Singapore.
  5. An App Removal Direction, which requires an app store to stop distributing an app to, and to stop enabling the download of this app by, any persons in Singapore.

A failure to comply with any of these directions would constitute a criminal offence for which the offending party may be liable to a fine and possible incarceration.

A party who receives any of the above directions can lodge an appeal with a “reviewing tribunal” to have the decision reviewed, varied or cancelled. Such tribunal must comprise a district judge or magistrate appointed by the President on the advice of the Cabinet.

Additionally, the Bill also entitles a competent public authority to designate an online service and subject it to a code of practice, a rectification notice or an implementation directive, with the aim of promoting or requiring good practices and the implementation of appropriate systems, processes and measures to fulfil the Bill’s objectives.

The main policy goals of the Bill have been stated as the Singapore government wanting to adopt a more proactive stance to counter online criminal activity and protect the public which has in the past fallen prey to a surge in harmful online content and behaviours. These include offences relating to terrorism and internal security, racial and religious harmony, incitement of violence, breaches of the Official Secrets Act, illegal drugs, illegal gambling, unlawful moneylending, scams and malicious cyber activities, and sex offences such as child abuse and voyeuristic material.

Singapore’s Broadcasting Act[3] was also updated earlier this year to combat user safety issues such as suicide, self-harm, cyber bullying and content that undermine racial and religious harmony.

The Bill will be read for the second time in the next Parliament sitting, which is expected to be on or after July 3, 2023.

[1] https://www.parliament.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/online-criminal-harms-bill-17-2023.pdf

[2] A competent public authority is to be designated by Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs.

[3] https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/BA1994 and https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/BA1994-S47-2023?DocDate=20230207

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this article is accurate, neither its authors nor Squire Patton Boggs accepts responsibility for any errors or omissions. The content of this article is for general information only, and is not intended to constitute or be relied upon as legal advice.