Singapore Enacts Legislation Aiming to Block Foreign Online Political Interference

Report from the Wall Street Journal

In Brief – Singapore’s parliament has passed the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act that it defends as a response to foreign financed online political information campaigns. The legislation allows government authorities to designate groups and individuals as “politically significant persons” which will authorize a range of responses including requiring the deemed entities to disclose foreign funding sources, as well as compelling internet service providers and social media platforms to turn user information over to the government, block content and remove applications used to spread content the government deems hostile. Bill proponents argue that foreign disinformation campaigns are a growing threat globally and the measures will stop foreigners and their local proxies from using social media and messaging apps to interfere in Singapore’s affairs. The political opposition in Singapore, where one party had been in power since the city-state gained independence in 1965, as well as advocates for free speech and political pluralism, contend that the measures will likely feed authoritarian impulses, undermine independent criticism of the government, as well as tracking critics and cutting off their funding.

Context – Misinformation and disinformation, in particular charges that foreign state actors can aim to influence political or social conditions in other countries through online and social media activities, is a global bugaboo. These threats are being used to justify government influence over online content moderation practices from the UK and EU to India and Turkey. While countries like Turkey and India, and now Singapore, are easy to criticize on political censorship grounds, defining misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and viewpoint censorship case-by-case raises similar concerns everywhere. For example, civil libertarians and free speech advocates are raising concerns with the UK Online Safety Bill for enabling repressive and authoritarian regimes to justify online speech controls for their own ends.

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