Singapore is seeking to pass new legislation that would allow it to issue directives to prevent the spread of harmful online activities, including blocking access to suspected scam sites.
The proposed Online Criminal Harms Bill, which had its first reading in parliament on Monday, sets out five key directions that can be issued if the government suspects that “any website, online account, or online activity” is being used for scam or harmful activities.
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Online service providers, for example, can receive directions to disable specific content, such as a webpage or post, including copies of the content, so it cannot be seen in Singapore. They can also be directed to block access to a URL.
App stores, too, can be instructed to remove an app from their store in Singapore to prevent further downloads by users in the country.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the proposed legislation would apply to nine categories of criminal offenses, including activities that affect national security, illegal gambling, and activities that incite violence. .
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Government directives can be issued as long as there is “reasonable suspicion” an online activity is being conducted to facilitate a crime.
The ministry said a “proactive” approach is needed to counter the scale and speed achieved by cybercriminals. It noted that syndicates are becoming more sophisticated and malicious activities can spread rapidly online. “Compared to other specified criminal offences, the low threshold for taking action enables the government to disrupt scams and malicious cyber activity before anyone becomes a victim,” it said.
Singapore last year recorded 33,669 cases of scams and cybercrimes, 25.2% higher than 2021, with more than SG$660.7 million ($496m) lost to scammers. Phishing, a popular attack vector for such activities, more than doubled, with 8,500 phishing attempts reported in 2022 compared to 3,100 last year.
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The proposed Online Criminal Harms Bill will provide a means for the government to take swift action against online content that is criminal in nature or used to abet crimes, and disrupt such activities before they affect the users, the ministry said.
The draft legislation also outlines Codes of Practice that may require certain online services to have systems and processes to prevent malicious cyber activities, as well as to support enforcement actions against such cybercrimes. .
If the risk of harmful online activities persists in the designated online service, despite the Codes of Practice, directives may be issued to the service provider to implement measures to reduce such risks. .
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The proposed bill includes an appeals mechanism for recipients of government directives to request a review or cancellation of the directive.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the proposed bill is part of a series of legislation aimed at protecting Singapore against harmful online activities. These pieces of legislation include the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act and the Foreign Interference Act.
The Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act also came into effect earlier this year, enabling the Singapore government to issue directives for social media platforms to block local access to what it deems “outrageous”. ” content. The regulation also allows access to social media sites to be cut off, if operators do not comply with the directive.