Singapore’s parliament passed a new law against foreign interference on Monday that empowers the city-state’s government to better control internet content, India’s News 18 reported Thursday.
The bill — officially named the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or FICA — passed late on Monday night and still awaits the signature of Singapore’s president. FICA is designed to “stop foreigners and their local proxies from using social media and messaging apps to interfere in Singapore’s affairs,” the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported October 5.
The legislation grants Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry expanded powers to regulate “social-media companies and others that host web content,” according to WSJ. “The ministry could order the companies to hand over details about their users, block content judged to be a security risk, and remove apps.”
Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry is tasked with protecting the city-state’s national security, civil defense, public safety, and borders. The new foreign interference law allows the ministry to “designate people and entities as ‘politically significant persons’ and then order them to disclose and potentially give up foreign funding,” WSJ noted on Tuesday.
“This Bill is intended to address a serious threat that concerns our national security and sovereignty,” Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister, K. Shanmugam, said shortly after the legislation was approved on October 4.
“And these are important to ensure that Singaporeans continue to make our own choices on how we should govern our country and live our lives,” he added, as quoted by Singapore’s Straits Times.
In a speech to Singapore’s parliament ahead of Monday’s vote on FICA, Shanmugam said he believed the Southeast Asian city-state’s “interracial and inter-religious mix was easily exploitable by foreign actors.”
The minister said foreign actors “have been steadily building up covert, clever narratives [disseminated via the internet] to try and condition Singaporeans’ thinking.”
“In my view, this is one of the most serious threats we face, and our population and I think most MPs [Ministers of Parliament] are not really aware of this,” he stated.
FICA’s passing this week represents a culmination of at least three years of diligent work by Singaporean government ministers, Shanmugam acknowledged on October 4.
“Foreign interference and the need for legislation have been extensively discussed and debated for more than three years now, dating back to 2018, when a select committee set up to study the issue of fake news gathered detailed evidence on the seriousness of the threat,” he reminded fellow parliamentarians on Monday.
Shanmugam said foreign interference via internet platforms has grown into a formidable national security threat in recent years.
“The internet has created a powerful new medium for subversion,” he noted.
“Countries are actively developing attack and defense capabilities, as an arm of warfare equal to and more potent than their land, air, and naval forces,” the minister observed.