WP proposes changes to Foreign Interference Bill, amendments to be discussed in parliament

Under the bill, the Home Secretary can issue instructions that compel a person or internet intermediary to stop communicating content deemed to be part of a hostile information campaign. If these instructions fail, the minister can order Internet service providers to block access to the content.

As in the Protection Against Online Lies and Manipulation Act (POFMA), parties receiving these instructions are required to comply with them whether or not they wish to appeal. Those found guilty of failing to comply with instructions could be sentenced to prison terms, fines, or a combination of both.

Parties who subsequently wish to appeal these directions may request the Minister to modify or rescind the direction.

If the minister refuses, the party can appeal to a review tribunal chaired by a sitting High Court judge and made up of two other people from outside the government. The court can either dismiss the appeal or revoke the Minister’s decision.

The government has proposed that such a tribunal, instead of the courts, hear appeals because sensitive information with national security implications could be involved.

But MK He Ting Ru (WP-Sengkang) proposed that the High Court, instead of the court, hear such appeals, and those under the instructions could apply to the court for a stay of instructions pending the call.

Ms He also suggested that the High Court could order all or part of the appeal to be heard behind closed doors if it is satisfied that doing so would be in the interests of justice, public safety or security.

In camera means that the public would not be allowed to attend the proceedings.

STRONGER REACH

On the more specific scope to reduce the likelihood of abuse of power, MP Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) proposed that the minister should act on the basis of “actionable evidence or intelligence” rather than suspicion, as stated. in the current bill.

Under the bill, the Minister must suspect or have reason to believe that the content has been or is intended to be communicated by or on behalf of a foreign principal; that information or material is published in Singapore accordingly; and that it is in the public interest before issuing the instructions.

Associate Professor Lim also suggested deleting words like “likely to” in the bill, preferring to stick to the more concrete “is” already provided for in the bill.

MORE CLARITY

As for greater clarity on the persons or entities subject to the law, MP Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied) proposed that those designated as “politically significant” be entered in a register provided free of charge and easily accessible to the public, as well as only with the reasons for designation.

That is unless the competent authority considers it “not possible or desirable” to do so for reasons of national security, he said.

Under the bill, a competent authority appointed by the minister can designate persons and entities as politically significant if their activities are directed towards a political end and it is in the public interest that countermeasures be applied .

Those in this group must declare one-time donations of S$10,000 or more from local and foreign donors, as well as disclose their affiliations with foreign entities.

The Competent Authority may also order such parties who publish matters on political issues relating to Singapore to disclose the contact details of any foreign and/or foreign principal author for whom or at whose direction the article or program is published.

The WP said its MPs would “gather more comprehensive arguments” during the parliamentary debate on the bill.