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Friday, December 8, 2023

Singapore passes law preventing foreign interference, Bloomberg terms it ‘contentious’

Singapore’s government passed a law to prevent the influence of foreign organizations or individuals in the country’s politics. Even though critics and western media have dissed the move, in today’s times of social media (SM) such a law is necessary to protect the sovereignty of a nation.

SM is often used by vested foreign interests to attack a nation as was seen in the manner the Muslim Brotherhood targeted Bharat’s economic interests using #BoycottIndianProducts trend or the foreign intervention seen after passage of the CAA or during the continued so-called farmer protests.

Singapore passes Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill

As per the provisions of the bill, officials have been authorized to order SM platforms and internet service providers to provide them information regarding malicious content that they suspect to be of foreign origin.

The government, on its part, has defended the law citing the vulnerability of a multi-ethnic society like Singapore. It stated that Singapore is especially vulnerable to fake news and hostile information campaigns given that it is a financial hub with a multiethnic, international population that enjoys widespread Internet access.

The country’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said “The threat we face, as I said, is people armed with bazookas and I describe this legislation as a toy gun. Singapore believes in the law, so we give ourselves legal powers. But in reality the kind of threats we face, the kind of adversaries and the resources they have in terms of manpower, are far greater than what we have.”

The bill was passed on October 4, three weeks after being introduced in the parliament where the ruling People’s Action party has a majority. The opposition Workers Party supported the need to counter foreign interference but put forward 44 amendments to the law.

Opposition leader Pritam Singh said “Most Singaporeans would have readily supported the use of executive power to curb foreign influence. However, I am also sure that if asked, most Singaporeans would be in favor of our courts acting as a check to ensure that executive power is exercised lawfully, appropriately and fairly”.

As per the provisions of the new law, in case the government believes that social media or internet user accounts are being used as part of hostile information campaigns, it can order providers to block content in these accounts from being viewed in Singapore. It may also direct social media and internet providers to carry a message to warn Singapore citizens about such hostile activities.

The government has, however, clarified that the new law won’t apply to foreign individuals and publications commenting and reporting on Singapore politics even if it might be critical of the country or the government.

Contentious or protecting national interests?

Bloomberg has labelled the law ‘contentious’ but in view of undue foreign influence exerted on countries using social media it is essential that systems are put in place to protect a nation’s sovereignty.

PC: Bloomberg website

Deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson has been quoted by Bloomberg as saying “the law’s passage constitutes a human rights disaster for community activists, independent media, and opposition politicians. Using this law, the government can easily make its critics run the gauntlet of discriminatory restrictions, and shut down viewpoints it doesn’t like”.

Despite such criticisms it is essential to understand the concerns of countries and the need to defend themselves from influences that may be detrimental to its national interests. It is the right of every democratic country to protect itself and its institutions from being influenced by foreign elements who may not have a complete grasp of the ground situation as well as local culture. Furthermore, fake news is one of the biggest pitfalls of SM which every nation needs to safeguard itself from.

(Featured Image Source: Business Standard)

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