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Singapore may impose new legislation to counter foreign interference, says Edwin Tong

Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said on 12 February (Tuesday) that Singapore may consider coming up with new laws to counter foreign interference, as it is “especially vulnerable” to these exploits which stir up distrust and threaten its democratic processes.

He was responding to a questioned asked by MP Cheng Li Hui in Parliament. She asked PM Lee if Singapore needs new legislation or strengthen its old laws when dealing with foreign interference as well as Singaporeans who work with foreign actors to influence the city-state’s elections and politics.

Responding on behalf of PM Lee, Mr Tong said that Singapore is a target and there definitely will be countries with an interest in meddling in its affairs and influencing public opinion.

However, he admits that detecting foreign interference is not always an easy task.

In December 2018, when the maritime and airspace disputes between Singapore and Malaysia conquered the headlines, the Government saw a hike in online comments – many critical of Singapore – from anonymous accounts.

Although it is difficult to identify the account owners and whether foreign actors are co-ordinating them, they have tried to “give and create an artificial impression to netizens of the opposition to Singapore’s position at a time of heightened bilateral difficulties”, explained Mr Tong.

As such, it is crucial for the authorities to have the ability to identify the origin of these accounts and establish if they’re real or fake, he added.

In an attempt to counter foreign interference, the Government will consider new laws to apprehend deliberate online falsehoods and state-sponsored campaigns that jeopardise national security. This is on the back of recommendations by a Select Committee looking into online falsehoods.

Mr Tong also said that Singapore has to update and improve its legal framework, which is “outmoded against modern and technologically sophisticated tactics”, in order to tackle hostile information campaigns.

The laws to tackle hostile information campaigns will have two objectives – Singapore must act quickly to stop the spreading of false information and narrative by foreign actors, as well as expose clandestine foreign-interference campaigns before they happen.

In addition to that, the public also needs to be discerning and sensitised to the threat, said Mr Tong.

After reading this news, more than 160 comments were received in TODAY‘s and Channel NewsAsia‘s Facebook pages.

Many netizens ridiculed the Minister’s move to consider new laws and felt that such a move may be a form of suppression. Some also questioned if the Government will arrest individuals who comment against the them.

However, some claim that most “avatars” are PAP IBs.