As cybercrime spikes around the world, including in Asian nations with a high level of digital connectivity, Singapore has introduced a bill in its parliament this week to crack down on the whole gamut of cybercrime, from misinformation campaigns and exploitation to online scams and drug trafficking. Provisions of the proposed legislation include app removal from app stores available to Internet users in Singapore.
The Online Criminal Harms Bill has been introduced for the first reading and will most likely pass into law soon. The proposed law, drafted by the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, forms one component of a wider “suite of legislation” to protect Singaporeans, according to a ministry statement. The other laws in this “suite” include Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act; the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act; and the recently amended Broadcasting Act.
If passed into law, the proposed legislation will enable the Singapore government to take a “proactive approach” to tackling cybercrime. The key aims of the Online Criminal Harms Bill for Singapore are:
- taking swift action against criminal activities carried out online;
- proactively disrupting scams and malicious cyber activities before they harm more victims.
Mechanism of the proposed law
The ministry statement explained that under the proposed law, “Government Directions may be issued when there is reasonable suspicion that an online activity is being carried out to commit a crime”. It added that “depending on the facts of the case”, the government could issue any of the following directions:
Stop Communication Direction: This requires the recipient of the Direction to stop communicating specified online content (including substantially similar content) to people in Singapore.
Disabling Direction: This requires online service providers to disable specified content (e.g. a post or page) on their service from the view of people in Singapore, which may include identical copies of the content.
Account Restriction Direction: This requires online service providers to stop an account on their service from communicating in Singapore and/or interacting with people in Singapore.
Access Blocking Direction: This requires Internet service providers to block access to an online location such as a web domain from the view of people in Singapore.
App Removal Direction: This requires app stores to remove an app from its Singapore storefront to stop further downloads of the app by people in Singapore.
More than SGD$660 million lost to scams
Citing some statistics on the threats that have prompted the tabling of this bill, the Ministry of Home Affairs statement said: “Online services have transformed our lives, bringing new opportunities for people and businesses. However, the online space is also increasingly being exploited by criminals.
“For example, in Singapore, we have had to deal with cases such as the dissemination of voyeuristic images and the sale of drugs that leverage a variety of online platforms.
“Earlier this year, 23 men were arrested in an operation against online child sexual exploitation, including for the transmission of obscene materials. In 2022, 32 drug offenders were arrested in an operation against drug transactions conducted through chat apps. Scams and malicious cyber activities have also proliferated in recent years.”
The ministry statement said that cybercrime cases in Singapore saw a big jump last year. “[In 2022], 33,669 scams and cybercrime cases were reported in Singapore, a 25.2 per cent increase from 2021, and more than SGD$660 million was lost to scams.”
About the various types of scams, the ministry statement said: “The most common scams, such as those offering attractive investments, jobs and product deals, were often perpetrated or facilitated through online platforms. Phishing, which is often an attack vector for scams and malicious cyber activities, has also increased significantly. Approximately 8,500 phishing attempts were reported to SingCERT in 2022, which is more than double the 3,100 phishing attempts reported in 2021.”
Read more Singapore News here