|A Obstacles to Access||19 25|
|B Limits on Content||17 35|
|C Violations of User Rights||18 40|
Internet freedom in Singapore remained under threat during the coverage period, as the government continued to exercise its control over online content. Laws passed in recent years—such as the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, 2021 (FICA) and the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, 2019 (POFMA)—empower authorities to restrict online activity with broad latitude. Government officials have targeted independent news websites perceived to be critical of the ruling party, including through delicensing, which has undermined the political diversity of the media landscape. The government confirmed that data collected by contact tracing apps could be used by law enforcement in criminal investigations for serious offenses, including terrorism and drug trafficking. Moreover, ordinary users continued to be investigated by police and criminally charged for the political and social content they posted on various platforms, further reducing the space for free expression and free assembly online.
The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the family of current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong has dominated Singapore’s parliamentary system since 1959. The legal framework constructed by the party allows for some political pluralism, but constrains the growth of credible opposition parties and limits freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.
- Ministers repeatedly invoked POFMA to order independent news websites, opposition politicians, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and social media users to publicize correction notices pertaining to their online content (see B2 and B3).
- Authorities shut down independent news site The Online Citizen following a dispute over its funding sources (see B2 and B6).
- In October 2021, Parliament passed FICA, which grants the government wide powers and discretion to restrict online content on the basis of suspicion of foreign interference (see B3, B6, B1, C2, and C4).
- After the High Court dismissed two lawsuits challenging orders issued under POFMA, both were appealed; the suits were brought by the Singapore Democratic Party and The Online Citizen (see B3).
- Users continued to be investigated and arrested for their online activities. In January 2022, Daniel De Costa was sentenced to three months and three weeks in prison over a letter about government corruption published in The Online Citizen; chief editor of the outlet Terry Xu was sentenced to three weeks imprisonment (see C3).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||6.006 6.006|
Singapore’s internet penetration rate is high, as is the general quality of service. As of 2021, 92.2 percent of resident households had broadband internet access,1 and there were more than 10.6 million broadband subscriptions on the island.2 As of December 2021, there were a total of 8,660,700 second-generation (2G), third-generation (3G), and fourth-generation (4G) technology mobile subscriptions in Singapore.3
Mobile data usage reached 69.11 petabytes (PB) in the fourth quarter of 2021.4 Singaporean telecommunications company Singtel launched a standalone fifth-generation (5G) network in May 2021.5 The government has indicated that half of the island will be covered by 5G by the end of the 2022, with full coverage by 2025.6
The fiber-optic based Nationwide Broadband Network (NBN) provides speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) or more and reaches the vast majority of Singaporean businesses and households.7 The national wireless network, [email protected], offers free public access via hotspots running at 5 megabits per second (Mbps). As of March 2022, a list compiled by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) showed that there were almost 6,300 [email protected] hotspots across the island.8 In May 2022, Singapore’s median fixed broadband download speed reached 203.6 Mbps, while median mobile download speed reached 64 Mbps, according to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index.9
The government is experimenting with a heterogeneous network (HetNet), a new wireless system that allows smartphone users to switch automatically between mobile and Wi-Fi networks for smoother mobile internet use.10
- 1Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Telecommunications,” March 10, 2022, https://www.imda.gov.sg/infocomm-media-landscape/research-and-statistic…
- 2Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Telecommunications,” March 10, 2022, https://www.imda.gov.sg/infocomm-media-landscape/research-and-statistic….
- 3Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Statistics on Telecom Services for 2021 Jul – Dec,” March 10, 2022, https://www.imda.gov.sg/infocomm-media-landscape/research-and-statistic…
- 4Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Telecommunications,” March 10, 2021, https://www.imda.gov.sg/infocomm-media-landscape/research-and-statistic….
- 5Low Youjim, “Explainer: Singapore’s first 5G standalone network is finally here. What's the buzz over it and how is it different from 4G?,” Today, September 30, 2021, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/explainer-singapores-first-5g-sta….
- 6Ovais Subhani, “Islandwide 5G coverage in Singapore by 2025,” the Straits Times, August 23, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/islandwide-5g-coverage-in-singap…
- 7IMDA, “National Broadband Network,” accessed July 19, 2021, https://www.imda.gov.sg/programme-listing/wired/next-gen-nbn
- 8IMDA, “[email protected] Hotspot List - March 2022,” March 2022, https://www.imda.gov.sg/-/media/Imda/Files/Community/Consumer-Education….
- 9“Singapore's Mobile and Fixed Broadband Internet Speeds,” Ookla, accessed July 19, 2022, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/singapore.
- 10Ministry of Communications and Information, “Initiatives,” https://www.mci.gov.sg/portfolios/infocomm-media/initiatives/infrastruc….
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||3.003 3.003|
The internet is largely available to all users in Singapore and the government has undertaken projects to limit any existing digital divide, such as those that cut along generational lines.
The generational divide in internet access remains: while 100 percent of residents between 15 and 24 years of age reported in 2020 that they had used the internet within three months prior to participating in the survey, the rate was 46 percent for those aged 75 and older.1 Such disparities were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people increasingly worked and studied from home.2 In an effort to bridge this divide, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced his intention to provide laptops and tablets for students and skills-training for senior citizens3 so they could better access digital resources.4
- 1IMDA, “Household Access to Computer by Household Composition, 2016 – 2020,” August 19, 2021, https://www.imda.gov.sg/infocomm-media-landscape/research-and-statistic… .
- 2Yee, Yip Wai. “Parliament: More Needs to Be Done to Close the Digital Divide Deepened by Covid-19, Say Two NMPs.” The Straits Times, 26 May 2020. The Straits Times, https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/parliament-more-needs-to-be-done-….
- 3Anthea Ong, “Commentary: COVID-19 has revealed a new disadvantaged group among us – digital outcasts,” Channel News Asia, May 31, 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/covid-19-has-revealed-d….
- 4Kurohi, Rei. “Students, Seniors to Get More Help to Access Digital Technology: DPM Heng.” The Straits Times, 26 May 2020. The Straits Times, https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/students-seniors-to-get-more-help….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||5.005 6.006|
No known restrictions have been placed on information and communications technology (ICT) connectivity, either permanently or during specific events. The Singapore Internet Exchange (SGIX), a nonprofit entity established by the government in 2009, provides an open, neutral, and self-regulated central point for service providers to exchange traffic with one another directly, instead of routing it through international carriers.1
Singapore’s NBN structure is built and operated by an entity that supplies wholesale-only, open-access, and nondiscriminatory services to all telecommunications carriers and service providers.2 To avoid conflicts of interest, separate companies have responsibility for passive infrastructure and active infrastructure such as routers, as well as for retail-level service provision downstream.
- 1“About Us,” Singapore Internet Exchange, accessed July 19, 2022, https://www.sgix.sg/about-us/.
- 2Net Link Trust, “Next Gen NBN,” https://netlinktrust.com/about-us/about/next-gen-nbn.html
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||4.004 6.006|
Service providers do not face onerous obstacles to entry or operation within Singapore. However, users’ choices among internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile providers remain limited.
The dominant ISPs are also the main mobile service providers: SingTel, Starhub, and M1. A fourth service provider, TPG Telecom, launched commercial services in March 2020.1 SingTel, formerly a state telecommunications monopoly, is now majority-owned by the government’s investment arm, while Starhub is indirectly controlled by the same company.2 There are now 10 mobile virtual network operators which lease network infrastructure from SingTel, Starhub, or M1 and sell mobile plans.3 MyRepublic launched a broadband service in 2014, and began offering mobile services in 2018.4 In March 2022, IMDA approved Starhub’s bid to buy a 50.1 percent stake in MyRepublic’s residential and enterprise broadband business.5
The virtual mobile telecommunications carrier Zero Mobile was suspended and blacklisted by the IMDA in March 2020 over its failure to address billing disputes with former customers after the company stopped offering plans in December 2019.6
The government awarded 5G licenses to Singtel, StarHub, and M1 in April 2020. TPG Telecom failed to receive a 5G license, despite submitting a bid.7
- 1Lester Wong, “TPG rolls out $10-for-50GB plan as it launches commercial services in Singapore,” The Straits Times, March 31, 2020 https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/tpg-rolls-out-10-for-50gb-plan-as-it-…
- 2“Shareholders,” Starhub, accessed April 6, 2022, https://www.starhub.com/about-us/company-information/corporate-structur…; “Telecommunications, Media & Technology,” Temasek, accessed April 6, 2022, https://www.temasek.com.sg/en/our-investments/our-portfolio/telecommuni….
- 3Ming Feng, “Best SIM-Only Mobile Plans in Singapore With User Reviews: Singtel GOMO vs Circles.Life and More,” Seedly, April 4, 2022, https://blog.seedly.sg/singapore-telco-plan-comparison-data-price-best-….
- 4Lester Hio, “MyRepublic moves into telco space, launching 3 mobile plans for all users,” The Straits Times, June 21, 2018, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/myrepublic-to-launch-three-mobil….
- 5Kenny Chee, “IMDA approves deal for StarHub to buy majority stake in MyRepublic business,” The Straits Times, March 10, 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/tech-news/imda-approves-deal-for-star….
- 6“IMDA blacklists virtual telco Zero Mobile, suspends its licence over failure to address billing disputes,” Channel News Asia, March 12, 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/imda-zero-mobile-blacklis…
- 7Samios, Zoe. “TPG Misses out on 5G Licence Bid in Singapore.” The Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/tpg-loses-singapore-5g-bid-20….
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||1.001 4.004|
Government agencies oversee service providers and digital technology, and the regulatory framework lacks independence. Under the Telecommunications Act, licenses for telecommunications systems and services can be issued either unconditionally or with conditions as specified by the authorities.1 The IMDA is responsible for both the development and regulation of the converging communications and media sectors.2 The IMDA is not an independent public agency but a statutory body of the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
- 1Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Telecommunications Act (Chapter 323) Part 2, Section 5,” December 30, 2000, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/TA1999#pr5-.
- 2Irene Tham, “Merger of IDA, MDA spurred by changes in tech,” The Straits Times, January 27, 2016, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/merger-of-ida-mda-spurred-by-chan….
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||4.004 6.006|
Long-term blocks are imposed on certain websites, and the government directed ISPs to restrict access to at least one website during the coverage period in response to its critical content.
In January 2020, the MCI ordered ISPs to block the website of the Malaysian NGO Lawyers for Liberty. The block was ordered after the group failed to publish a POFMA correction notice related to its statements on Singapore’s methods of capital punishment.1 The website remained blocked on some networks as of June 2022.2
The IMDA has previously directed ISPs to restrict access to websites and pages related to Alex Tan, a strident critic of the ruling party and a 2011 candidate for an opposition party. In December 2018, the IMDA temporarily blocked access to the news site Singapore Herald, edited by Tan, after it refused to comply with several takedown orders. The authorities claimed that eight of Singapore Herald’s articles on a maritime dispute between Singapore and neighboring Malaysia “blatantly mispresent[ed]” Singapore’s position.3
In November 2018, the IMDA directed ISPs to restrict access to the States Times Review, also run by Tan, after it refused to comply with an order to take down an article claiming that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was a key target of money-laundering investigations surrounding a Malaysian state investment fund.4 The IMDA said that the article contained “prohibited content” under its Internet Code of Practice because the content undermined public confidence in the Singaporean government.5 The site shifted its activity to Facebook after November 2018.6 As of the end of the coverage period, it is unclear if these websites are still blocked and if they remain active or managed by Tan. 7
The IMDA blocks a list of 100 websites as a means of signaling societal values. This floating list has never been made public. Other than a few overseas sites run by religious extremists, the list is known to mainly consist of pornographic sites.8 In addition to this list, the Canada-based extramarital dating website Ashley Madison has been blocked since 2013, after it announced its plan to launch in Singapore.9 The use of regulation to signpost societal values has been linked to the influence of religious conservatives (mainly evangelical Christians), who have asserted themselves more in public morality debates in recent years.10
In May 2018, the High Court ordered ISPs to block 53 websites containing pirated materials, including Pirate Bay and SolarMovie.11 In July 2018, the High Court also ruled in favor of “dynamic site blocking,” allowing the blocking of websites that link to the original 53 sites.12
In February 2022, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said that 12,000 scam websites had been blocked in 2021, a sharp increase from the blocking of 500 such sites in 2020.13 Teo also said that the government was looking into the use of artificial intelligence to block such websites more swiftly.14
- 1Belmont Lay, “S'pore govt orders blocking of M'sia-based Lawyers for Liberty's website,” Mothership, January 24, 2020,https://mothership.sg/2020/01/lawyers-for-liberty-website-blocked-singa….
- 2Analyst testing, June 2022.
- 3“IMDA blocks Singapore Herald website for not removing articles on Singapore-Malaysia maritime dispute,” Channel News Asia, December 16, 2018, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/imda-blocks-singapore-he….
- 4Kirsten Han, “Singapore’s fake news debate wrapped in 1MDB controversy,” Asia Times, November 13, 2018, https://www.asiatimes.com/2018/11/article/singapores-fake-news-debate-w….
- 5“States Times Review refuses to take down article linking PM Lee with 1MDB,” Channel News Asia, November 9, 2018, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/states-times-review-refu….
- 6“Singapore Herald to shut down, editor Alex Tan forced to return to Singapore.” Singapore Herald, March 4, 2019. https://www.singapore-herald.com/1735/
- 7“Web Connectivity Test for https://www.singapore-herald.com/,” Open Observatory of Network Interference, July 29, 2020, https://explorer.ooni.org/measurement/20200729T222627Z_AS45143_SCnIlAtJ….
- 8Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Internet,” accessed on July 9, 2014, https://www.imda.gov.sg/regulations-and-licensing-listing/content-stand….
- 9Ministry of Communications and Information, “MCI's response to PQ on the Ashley Madison website,” November 11, 2013, https://www.mci.gov.sg/cos2017/mcicorphome/pressroom/news-and-stories/p….
- 10Terence Chong, “Christian Evangelicals and Public Morality in Singapore,” ISEAS Perspective #17, July 9, 2014, https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2014_17.pdf.
- 11Irene Tham, “53 piracy websites blocked in battle to curb copyright breach,” The Straits Times, May 21, 2018, https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/53-piracy-websites-blocked-in-battle-….
- 12“Singapore allows dynamic site blocking in landmark court ruling – Any Web address linking to blocked piracy sites can now be blocked as well,” Motion Picture Association Asia Pacific, July 19, 2018, https://www.mpa-i.org/in_the_news/singapore-allows-dynamic-site-blockin….
- 13Aqil Haziq Mahmud, “Authorities blocked more than 350 websites in OCBC phishing scam: Josephine Teo,” Channel News Asia, February 15, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/ocbc-scam-block-website-sms-s….
- 14Kenny Chee, “Govt agencies exploring use of AI to block scam websites faster: Josephine Teo,” The Straits Times, February 17, 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/politics/government-agencies-exp…
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||1.001 4.004|
The state has sought to employ legal, administrative, and other means to remove content. Between the implementation of POFMA in October 2019 and the end of this report’s coverage period, May 2022, correction orders were issued a total of 96 times, according to a dataset compiled by the Singapore Internet Watch, to a range of targets including news websites, NGOS, opposition parties and politicians, social media users, and social media platforms.1
In May 2021, during the previous coverage period, the government issued a correction direction to the news site The Online Citizen—one of Singapore’s longest-running and most well-known alternative news media sites—news site Singapore Uncensored, and an Instagram user for sharing claims that the police had reprimanded an elderly woman for not wearing a mask.2 After the order was issued, the minister for home affairs and law described The Online Citizen’s actions as “despicable” and “quite malicious.”3 The Online Citizen appealed to the minister to withdraw the POFMA order, but the appeal was rejected.4
In September 2021, the IMDA ordered The Online Citizen to close its websites and social media accounts after the regulator suspended the outlet’s license (see B6).5 In December, the High Court dismissed an application for a judicial review of the IMDA order.6
Individual government officials are known to demand retractions or apologies for comments on social media that they take issue with. Though government ministers did not order content to be removed under POFMA during the coverage period, ministers did issue 15 POFMA correction directions, affecting over 20 pieces of content across social media platforms and websites, 4 of which were related to the COVID-19 pandemic.7 Recipients of correction directions are required to publish notices drafted by the government stating that their content contains “falsehoods.”
In October 2021, the Ministry for Home Affairs issued letters to nine people demanding that they publish apologies in specified terms for misrepresenting what the Minister for Home Affairs and Law Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam had said about the rule of law during a parliamentary debate on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, and that they correct their social media posts.8 The order gave the recipients an hour to comply, failing which, it was implied, legal action could be taken by the minister. Several recipients of this demand had in their posts referred to or quoted from an article on the news website Mothership.sg, which did not receive the same demand for an apology and published a clarification instead.9 After the activist Jolovan Wham refused to correct or apologize for his post, the minister for home affairs issued Twitter a targeted correction direction, requiring the platform to alert users that Wham’s post contained what the minister claimed were false statements. 10 Wham was subsequently summoned for questioning by the POFMA Office.11
In August 2021, the minister for health issued a general correction direction to Facebook, requiring the platform to display a government notice to all end-users in Singapore debunking claims that a three-year-old had died of COVID-19 in a hospital.12 In May 2021, Twitter and Facebook were issued general correction orders requiring them to notify all users that false claims of a Singapore variant of COVID-19 were circulating on social media.13
During the campaign period for the July 2020 general elections, POFMA orders were issued by senior civil servants who had been temporarily appointed by government ministers to serve as “alternate authorities” while elected people campaigned for reelection. These orders targeted content related to statements or talking points from opposition politicians about funding for foreign students,14 Singapore’s population policies,15 and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.16 Facebook announced that it had removed accounts and pages for “inauthentic behavior.”17 Among those removed was the progovernment Fabrications About the People’s Action Party (PAP) page,18 as well as three accounts that run the Critical Spectator, a commentary page that also posts progovernment content.19
In July 2020, the IMDA directed Facebook to remove “boosted advertisements” from New Naratif—an online platform cofounded by Singaporeans that advocates for democracy in Southeast Asia—claiming that the boosted posts constituted unauthorized election advertising.20 One of those advertisements, which mimicked a perfume ad, accused Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of using the rule of law to silence his critics.21 New Naratif’s managing director has since been interrogated by the police over this alleged offense (see C3).
Streaming platforms have also complied with requests to remove content. According to Netflix’s Environmental Social Governance 2021 report, the company removed a film and two episodes of an animated series in February and September 2021, respectively, at the request of the IMDA.22 In February 2020, Netflix reported that it had complied with five requests from the IMDA between 2018 and 2020 to remove titles related to marijuana or Christianity from its platform.23
According to Google, the Singapore government made five content removal requests relating to 13 items between June and December 2021, including two requests that were classified by the company as “government criticism.” Google removed two items pursuant to these requests.24 Meta reported 1,301 pieces of content were restricted in Singapore during the same period, and 21 more were subject to global restrictions that had been externally imposed. The company also claimed that these pieces of content had been restricted following reports from the Singapore government that they were linked to unlicensed money lenders and job scams.25 Twitter disclosed that it received two legal demands to remove content between January to June 2021 and complied with one of them.26
Eleven news sites have been licensed under a notice-and-takedown framework, which requires them to comply with government orders to remove content within 24 hours (see B3). Nine are run by either Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) or MediaCorp—which, as newspaper and broadcasting companies, are already subject to discretionary individual licensing and traditionally have cooperated with the government (see B6).
Since the Class License system was introduced in 1996 (see B3), it has been used to restrict access to sensitive websites.
- 1“POFMA’ed Dataset,” Singapore Internet Watch, accessed June 13, 2022, https://www.singaporeinternet.watch/projects/pofmaed-dataset; see also “POFMA’ed Dataset,” Github, accessed June 13, 2022, https://github.com/flyingkai/POFMAed/blob/master/POFMA'ed%20Dataset.xlsx.
- 2Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, “Issuance of correction directions and targeted correction direction under the protection from online falsehoods and manipulation act 2019 on falsehoods regarding alleged police bullying,” May 21, 2021, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2021/May/pofma-…
- 3Aqil Haziq Muhamud, “The Online Citizen’s Video on Allegations of Police Bullying Elderly Woman Is ‘Despicable’: Shanmugam,” May 25, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/police-bully-elderly-woman-th….
- 4Aqil Haziq Muhamud, “Shanmugam Rejects The Online Citizen’s Application to Cancel POFMA Order on Police Bullying Allegations.” May 28, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/police-bully-elderly-woman-po….
- 5Rei Kurohi, “The Online Citizen taken offline, ahead of deadline set by IMDA after failure to declare funding,” The Straits Times, September 16, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/the-online-citizen-goes-dark-ahe….
- 6Lydia Lam, “High Court dismisses The Online Citizen's bid to apply for judicial review against IMDA's orders to shut website, social media accounts,” Channel News Asia, December 16, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/online-citizen-toc-imda-order…
- 7POFMA’ed Dataset,” Singapore Internet Watch, accessed June 13, 2022, https://www.singaporeinternet.watch/projects/pofmaed-dataset; see also “POFMA’ed Dataset,” Github, accessed June 13, 2022, https://github.com/flyingkai/POFMAed/blob/master/POFMA'ed%20Dataset.xlsx.
- 8Low Youjin, “MHA asks 9 people to apologise and correct false statements on what Shanmugam said on rule of law,” Today Online, October 8, 2021, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/mha-asks-9-people-apologise-and-c…
- 9Low Jia Ying, “Someone who doesn't change their mind after considering facts is either stupid or ideological. I'm neither: Shanmugam,” Mothership, October 6, 2021, https://mothership.sg/2021/10/shanmugam-changed-views/
- 10Press Release, Ministry For Home Affairs, October 9, 2021, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/files/media-releases/pofma-pr-mha-9Oct20…
- 11“POFMA Office Statement on Jolovan Wham,” POFMA Office, IMDA, November 1, 2021, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/files/media-releases/pofma-pr-pofma-1Nov….
- 12Press Release, Ministry of Health, August 15, 2021, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2021/Aug/pofma-….
- 13Michael Yong, “POFMA Directive Issued to Facebook, Twitter, SPH Magazines over ‘Singapore variant” of COVID-19 Falsehood,” May 20, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/pofma-covid-19-singapore…
- 14Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office, “Alternate Authority for the Minister for Education Instructs POFMA Office to Issue Correction Directions,” July 2, 2020, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2020/July/pofma….
- 15Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office, “Alternate Authority for the Minister for National Development Instructs POFMA Office to Issue Correction Directions and Targeted Correction Direction,” July 4, 2020, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2020/July/pofma….
- 16Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Health, “Joint MOM-MOH Statement on the Issuance of Correction Directions Under the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Against National University of Singapore Society (NUSS), the Online Citizen Asia (TOC), CNA and New Naratif,” July 5, 2020, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2020/July/pofma….
- 17Kok Yufeng, “Facebook takes action against 'inauthentic' accounts ahead of Singapore general election,” The Straits Times, June 11, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/facebook-takes-action-against-ina….
- 18“Singapore GE2020: Facebook takes down Fabrications About the PAP page,” The Straits Times, June 28, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/singapore-ge2020-facebook-takes-d….
- 19Matthew Mohan, “Facebook removes Critical Spectator admin accounts for violating policies,” Channel News Asia, July 8, 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/facebook-removes-critica….
- 20Choo, Yun Ting. “Singapore GE 2020: IMDA Issues Notice to Facebook to Remove New Naratif’s Unauthorised Paid Online Election Ad.” The Straits Times. July 3, 2020. https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/singapore-ge-2020-imda-issues-not….
- 21Kurohi, Rei. “New Naratif Says ELD’s Police Report against It Is Harassment against Govt’s Critics, Abuse of Law.” The Straits Times. September 19, 2020. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/new-naratif-says-elds-police-rep….
- 22Netflix, “Environmental Social Governance 2021: Sustainability Accounting Standards Board Report,” https://s22.q4cdn.com/959853165/files/doc_downloads/2022/03/30/2021-SAS…
- 23Netflix’s Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SABS), “Environmental Social Governance,” 2019, https://s22.q4cdn.com/959853165/files/doc_downloads/2020/02/0220_Netfli….
- 24“Government Requests to Remove Content,” Google, accessed July 19, 2022, https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/government-re….
- 25“Singapore,” Content Restrictions Based on Local Law, Meta, accessed July 19, 2022, https://transparency.fb.com/data/content-restrictions/country/SG/.
- 26“Singapore,” Twitter Transparency, accessed July 19, 2022, https://transparency.twitter.com/en/reports/countries/sg.html.
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||1.001 4.004|
There is a lack of transparency in the process for restricting online and digital content. A new law, ostensibly aimed at tackling foreign influence operations, also lacks an independent appeals process.
The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) was passed by Parliament in October 2021. The law grants the minister for home affairs power to issue censorship orders—including content removals, website blocks, social media account restrictions, app store restrictions, and the publication of government notices—if the minister suspects that there is foreign interference relating to the online content and believes it is in the public interest to act. The law defines foreign interference expansively to include a wide range of efforts undertaken by non-Singapore citizens, entities, and their collaborators in Singapore. FICA also allows authorities appointed by the government to designate individuals and organizations as “politically significant persons,” who are required to submit regular reports to the government on foreign affiliations and donations from non-Singapore citizens.1 The law explicitly prohibits appeals to the court regarding FICA decisions; instead, appeals can only be directed with to the minister for home affairs, or to a reviewing tribunal appointed by the president on the advice of the cabinet. Judicial reviews are limited to procedural matters.2
Provisions of FICA that permit authorities to order social media platforms to investigate purported foreign interference in Singaporean politics entered into effect in July 2022, after the coverage period. The remaining provisions have not yet taken effect.3
POFMA, which came into effect in October 2019, provides any government minister with the power to order correction notices and remove or restrict access to content if they find that it contains false statements and are of the opinion that it would be in the public interest to take action (see C1 and C2). Ministers are not required to obtain court orders to have their directives enforced; instead, the directives must first be complied with, even if one intends to lodge an appeal with the High Court.4 In addition to content publishers, internet intermediaries can be held liable if they do not comply with orders to issue corrections or remove content. There is a complete lack of transparency around how and when the government decides to invoke POFMA against online content.5
Only a handful of correction orders issued under POFMA have been challenged in the High Court.6 The first two cases, brought by the Singapore Democratic Party and The Online Citizen in January 2020, were not adjudicated in open court.7 The High Court dismissed both appeals,8 and both the Singapore Democratic Party and The Online Citizen appealed the High Court’s decisions.9 The Online Citizen’s appeal was dismissed in October 2021.10
In October 2021, the Court of Appeal overturned one part of three correction directions issued to the Singapore Democratic Party over a 2019 Facebook post. However, the court upheld the two other correction orders the Singapore Democratic Party had received, as well as the second part of the third.11 After the court’s verdict, the Minister for Manpower issued a new correction direction to the Singapore Democratic Party related to the same 2019 Facebook post, claiming that the information was still incorrect.12 The Singapore Democratic Party said that they would once again challenge this new direction in court.13
Separately, in May 2020, The Online Citizen applied for a judicial review of a POFMA correction direction for a post that included a speculation on the annual salary of the chief executive of state investment company Temasek Holdings.14 This application was later dropped. In June 2021, The Online Citizen challenged another POFMA direction, relating to an article on the behavior of police officers towards an elderly woman.15 The High Court dismissed the appeal in July 2022.16
The Broadcasting Act has included explicit internet regulations since 1996. Internet content providers and ISPs are licensed as a class and must comply with the act’s Class License Conditions and the Internet Code of Practice. Under this regime, ISPs are required to take “all reasonable steps” to filter any content that the regulator deems “undesirable, harmful, or obscene.”17 The law also empowers the Minister for Communications and Information to prohibit disclosure of any orders to censor content.18 Together with the fact that most ISPs and large online media companies have close ties to the government, the law has created a lack of transparency and public accountability surrounding online content regulation.
The IMDA’s notice-and-takedown framework exists for high-impact online news sites—those receiving visits from a monthly average of at least 50,000 unique internet protocol (IP) addresses in Singapore. Since the IMDA is not obliged to make its takedown orders public, and there is no culture of leaks from major media organizations, it is not possible to gauge how often this mechanism is used.
Introduced in 2013, the notice-and-takedown framework removes the relevant sites from the class license and subjects them to individual licensing, under which they are required to comply with any takedown notice within 24 hours. The sites are obliged to put up a “performance bond” of S$50,000 (US$37,000) as an incentive to remain in compliance.19 The bond is in line with the requirement for niche television broadcasters.20
- 1Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021, No. 28 of 2021, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Acts-Supp/28-2021/Published/20211125?DocDate=202….
- 2Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021, No. 28 of 2021, section 104, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Acts-Supp/28-2021/Published/20211125?DocDate=202….
- 3Lim Min Zhang, “Measures in S'pore's foreign interference law to counter hostile information campaigns take effect from July 7,” The Straits Times, July 6, 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/measures-in-spores-foreign-inter….
- 4Parliament of Singapore, “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill,” April 1, 2019, https://www.parliament.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-libr….
- 5Kristen Han, “How Singapore’s ‘Fake News’ Law Gets Exported.” April 8, 2020, https://www.theballot.world/articles/singaporefakenews.
- 6For the purposes of this report, we calculate the number of orders based on the number of directions served to individuals, publications, or organizations. A particular piece of content singled out by the authorities as a falsehood could trigger multiple POFMA orders to different parties.
- 7Nicholas Yong, “Judge denies SDP application for POFMA case to be heard in open court,” Yahoo News Singapore, January 16, 2020, https://sg.news.yahoo.com/singapore-judge-denies-sdp-pofma-case-heard-o….
- 8Louisa Tang, “High Court dismisses SDP’s Pofma appeal, calls party’s arguments ‘problematic’,” Today, February 5, 2020, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/high-court-dismisses-sdps-pofma-a…; Nicole Chang, “Judge dismisses The Online Citizen's POFMA challenge,” Channel News Asia, February 19, 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/the-online-citizen-toc-p….
- 9Lydia Lam. “Judgment Reserved in The Online Citizen, SDP’s POFMA Appeals, as Court Grapples with Legal Issues Including Burden of Proof.” September 17, 2020. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/toc-sdp-pofma-appeals-judgeme….
- 10Lakeisha Leo, “No grounds for setting aside POFMA correction direction issued against The Online Citizen for carrying Lawyers for Liberty statement: MHA,” Channel News Asia, October 8, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/online-citizen-pofma-court-ap….
- 11Lydia Lam, “Court of Appeal partially allows SDP's POFMA appeal in landmark judgment; other correction directions upheld,” Channel News Asia, October 8, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/pofma-sdp-appeal-partially-up….
- 12MEDIA STATEMENT ON COURT OF APPEAL’S JUDGMENT ON SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S POFMA APPEAL, Ministry of Manpower, October 8, 2021, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/files/media-releases/pofma-pr-mom-8Oct20….
- 13Ng Jun Sen, “‘We will go back to court’: SDP to contest latest Pofma direction by Manpower Ministry over job figures,” Today Online, October 13, 2021, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/we-will-go-back-court-sdp-contest…
- 14“TOC files application for judicial review of POFMA correction direction on posts made about Temasek Holdings CEO Ho Ching’s salary,” The Online Citizen, May 6, 2020, https://www.onlinecitizenasia.com/2020/05/06/toc-files-application-for-….
- 15Wan Ting Koh, “TOC argues against Pofma order over police 'bullying' allegations,” Yahoo News, December 1, 2021, https://sg.news.yahoo.com/toc-argues-pofma-order-police-bullying-allega…
- 16Davina Tham, “The Online Citizen fails in appeal against POFMA order over social media posts alleging police bullying,” CAN, July 25, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/pofma-online-citizen-toc-poli….
- 17Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Conditions of Class Licence, Section 2A (2), Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification under the Broadcasting Act (Chapter 28) Section 9,” last revised May 29, 2013, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/SL/BA1994-N1?DocDate=20161227.
- 18Broadcasting Act (Chapter 28) Section 3(5).
- 19Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification under the Broadcasting Act (Chapter 28) Section 9, revised on May 29, 2013, G.N. No. S330/2013.
- 20Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore, “Fact Sheet – Online news sites to be placed on a more consistent licensing framework as traditional news platforms,” May 28, 2013, https://www.imda.gov.sg/news-and-events/Media-Room/archived/mda/Media-R….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||2.002 4.004|
Self-censorship is common among journalists, commentators, and ordinary users, who are all aware that there could be repercussions, including civil and criminal penalties, for certain types of speech or expression (see C3).1 Matters of race and religion, as well as any comment on the independence of the judiciary or alleged government malfeasance, are considered particularly sensitive, given Singapore’s laws relating to sedition, religious harmony, contempt of court, and defamation (see C2).2
- 1Alvina Koh, “I’m scared of saying what I feel, and my friends feel the same way,” Class Notes, February 24, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200930032324/https://www.ourclassnotes.co…
- 2“Singapore Profile – Media,” BBC News, September 5, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-15966553.
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
Given the dominance of the ruling PAP, mainstream online sources of information generally toe the government line, although these outlets occasionally publish critical content. The government exerts influence over online information through formal ownership or executive oversight of mainstream outlets. The most read online news sources are the websites of the mainstream newspaper and broadcast outlets owned by SPH and MediaCorp. MediaCorp is state owned.1
In May 2021, SPH, citing falling revenues, announced plans to restructure and transition its media business into a not-for-profit organization, the SPH Media Trust.2 Khaw Boon Wan, a former PAP official who remains deeply connected to the ruling party’s elite, became the chairman of SPH Media Trust that month,3 and the trust launched in December 2021.4 In February 2022, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said that the government would fund SPH Media Trust up to S$180 million (US$132 million) a year for the next five years, with about 40 percent of this funding spent on tech investments and digital talent.5 The move means that major local news outlets in all of the country’s official languages are now being directly funded by the government.6
Since the 1980s, every SPH chairman has been a former cabinet minister. The government is known to have a say in the appointment of SPH’s chief executives and chief editors.7 Authorities’ ability to control online content was on display in October 2018, when the political editor of the mainstream outlet the Straits Times was transferred to another desk after government officials complained about coverage under her watch.8
In addition to influencing the online media environment, the government uses informal means to advance progovernment commentary. Individual ministers and government agencies have ramped up and professionalized their social media capacity, including publishing press releases on social media platforms like Facebook. The organizers of major government campaigns regularly and openly commission bloggers and creative professionals. In January 2018, the Ministry of Finance paid over 50 “influencers” on Instagram to promote public awareness of the upcoming budget debate.9
Certain pro-PAP websites and Facebook pages that attack the opposition have been described as engaging in “guerrilla-type activism,” with supporters responding quickly to antiestablishment comments online.10 Bloggers have pointed out that some (largely progovernment) online commentators hide behind anonymous profiles; these accounts are often referred to as the “Internet Brigades,” or IBs.11 However, there is no concrete evidence of large-scale covert deployment of paid online commentators. Before the July 2020 general elections, some pro-PAP Facebook pages were removed by Facebook for violating its policies (see B2).
- 1Jacqueline Woo, “SPH completes sale of Mediacorp stakes,” The Straits Times, September 30, 2017, http://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/sph-completes-sa….
- 2Davina Tham, “SPH to Restructure Media Business into Not-for-Profit Entity amid Falling Revenue.” May 6, 2021; https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/sph-media-restructure-not-for….
- 3Cheryl Lin, “Kaw Boon Wan to be chairman of entity managing SPH’s media business,” May 11, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/khaw-boon-wan-chairman-s…
- 4Warren Fernandez, “SPH Media Trust launch: Amid change, staying true to ST's mission,” The Straits Times, December 2, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/sph-media-trust-launch-amid-change…
- 5“MCI response to PQ on Update on Discussion with SPH Media Trust on Funding Support and Measures to Ensure Its Sustainability in Highly Competitive Media Industry and Limited Local Market,” Ministry of Communications and Information, February 15, 2022, https://www.mci.gov.sg/pressroom/news-and-stories/pressroom/2022/2/mci-…
- 6Taufiq Zalizan, “15 out of 19 leaders consulted chose Lawrence Wong as top pick to succeed PM, with no close second: Khaw Boon Wan,” Today Online, April 16, 2022, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/15-out-19-leaders-consulted-chose…
- 7Cherian George, Freedom From The Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore, Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2012.
- 8“Straits Times political editor reassigned following government officials' discontent over coverage,” Yahoo News Singapore, October 31, 2018, https://sg.news.yahoo.com/straits-times-political-editor-reassigned-fol….
- 9Joanna Seow, “Ministry of Finance pays for Instagram 'influencers' to promote Budget 2018,” The Straits Times, January 17, 2018, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/mof-pays-for-instagram-influencer….
- 10Tan Tarn How, “The normalisation of the political cyberspace since the 2011 GE,” Today, August 25, 2015, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/normalisation-political-cyberspac…; Pearl Lee, “Supporters seek to amplify PAP voice online,” The Straits Times, September 20, 2015, http://www.straitstimes.com/politics/supporters-seek-to-amplify-pap-voi…; Tan Tarn How, Tng Ying Hui, and Andrew Yeo, “Battle for Eyeballs: Online Media in the 2015 Election,” Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Commons, September 11, 2015, http://www.ipscommons.sg/battle-for-eyeballs-online-media-in-the-2015-e….
- 11Jess C. Scott, “PAP Internet Brigade,” Singapore Politics – Blog, August 25, 2015, https://jesscscott.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/pap-ib/.
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||1.001 3.003|
Online-only news outlets struggle to remain financially viable, due in part to restrictions on foreign funding and registration rules. FICA (see B3) may have an adverse impact on local civil society and independent media; in comments related to the potential introduction of such a law in 2019, the minister for home affairs made references to The Online Citizen and New Naratif.1
Both POFMA and FICA can exacerbate financial instability by allowing the government to demonetize websites (see B3 and C1). Under these laws, government ministers can designate any website or page as a “declared online location” or a “proscribed online location” if it has repeatedly published allegedly false information or is suspected of being involved in foreign interference activities. Websites with this designation are not allowed to accept donations or sell advertising or subscriptions.2 In February 2020, the Facebook page of the States Times Review was made the first “declared online location.”3 Since then, three other pages administered by Alex Tan—the Singapore States Times, National Times Singapore, and Tan’s own Facebook page—have been designated “declared online locations” after receiving POFMA orders (see B2).4
Special IMDA registration rules require sites to provide details about their funding sources and prohibit sites from receiving foreign funding, which is an essential form of revenue for most independent political sites in the region.5 The Online Citizen and the Independent, two independent sites known for critical commentary, fall under these registration rules and thus have never had the capacity to generate original daily news or regular investigative features.6 In October 2021, the IMDA canceled the license of The Online Citizen after a month-long suspension,7 alleging the outlet had not declared all of its funding sources and had not demonstrated that it receives no donations from non-Singaporeans. The Online Citizen’s editor Terry Xu reported that the authorities had unilaterally decided that paying subscribers should also be considered donors and would therefore need to be declared, which would prohibit them from accepting non-Singaporean subscribers. The Online Citizen offered to file their declarations as per normal without the details of paying subscribers;8 the IMDA rejected this offer.9
In December 2019, Google said it would not accept any advertising that is regulated under Singapore’s Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements,10 which was established under POFMA. The code requires hosts, platforms, or other intermediaries to develop due-diligence measures that include disclosure notices indicating who requested or paid for the advertisement, providing the government with a record of all online political advertisements, and implementing government reporting channels.11 The Singapore Democratic Party argued that Google’s ban on political advertising could disproportionately affect opposition parties, which receive less coverage in the mainstream media.
In September 2018, the minister of finance rejected an appeal from New Naratif to register as a Singapore subsidiary of its parent entity, which is based in the United Kingdom. New Naratif’s registration was previously declined because its work was considered “contrary to Singapore’s national interests.”12
Some online outlets have found ways to sustain themselves financially. The media start-up Mothership appears to be financially stable and counts among its advertising partners multiple government ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Finance, and the Economic Development Board.13 This has contributed to what analysts call a “normalization” of online space, with the PAP’s ideological dominance of the offline world increasingly reflected online.14 Rice Media, a niche digital outlet that launched in 2016, has so far managed to sustain itself through branded content, advertising and seed funding from venture-capital investors.15
- 1Aqil Haziq Mahmud, “Shanmugam warns of foreign interference in Singapore; questions agenda, funding of The Online Citizen,” Channel News Asia, September 25, 2019, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/the-online-citizen-toc-f….
- 2Parliament of Singapore, “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill,” April 1, 2019, https://www.parliament.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-libr….
- 3Ministry of Communications and Information, “‘States Times Review Facebook Page’ Declared as a Declared Online Location Under POFMA,” February 15, 2020, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2020/Feb/mci%20…
- 4Ministry of Communications and Information, “Minister for Communications and Information Directs POFMA Office to Issue Disabling Order,” May 30, 2020, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2020/May/pofma-…; Navene Elangovan, “Facebook blocks Singapore users’ access to National Times Singapore page, calls government order ‘severe’,” June 1, 2020, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/facebook-blocks-singapore-users-a…; Ministry of Communications and Information, “Minister for Communications and Information Directs POFMA Office to Issue Disabling Order,” May 8, 2020, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/media-releases/2020/May/pofma-….
- 5Wong Pei Ting, “MDA seeks registration of website The Middle Ground,” Today, July 29, 2015, http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/mda-seeks-registration-website-mid….
- 6Walter Sim, “The Online Citizen now a one-man show,” The Straits Times, March 3, 2016, http://www.straitstimes.com/politics/the-online-citizen-now-a-one-man-s….
- 7Vanessa Lim, “The Online Citizen’s licence suspended, ordered to stop posting on website and social media,” Channel News Asia, September 14, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/toc-online-citizen-suspended-…; “Cancellation of The Online Citizen Pte Ltd Class Licence,” Infocomm Media Development Authority, October 15, 2021, https://www.imda.gov.sg/news-and-events/Media-Room/Media-Releases/2021/…
- 8Kirsten Han, “A farewell (for now) to TOC,” We, The Citizens, September 18, 2021, https://www.wethecitizens.net/farewell-for-now-toc/.
- 9Rei Kurohi, “IMDA cancels The Online Citizen's class licence,” The Straits Times, October 15, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/imda-cancels-the-online-citizens….
- 10“SDP asks Google to explain its ‘shocking’ ban of political ads in Singapore,” Yahoo News Singapore, December 3, 2019, https://sg.news.yahoo.com/sdp-asks-google-to-explain-its-shocking-ban-o….
- 11Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office, “Code of Practice for Transparency of Online Political Advertisements,” October 2, 2019, https://www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg/documents/Political%20Advertisements%20C….
- 12“In Full: Acra's statement on rejection of Thum Ping Tjin and Kirsten Han's application to set up company said to be 'contrary to Singapore’s national interests,” Today, April 11, 2018, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/full-acras-statement-rejection-th….
- 13“About Mothership,” Mothership, https://mothership.sg/about-us/.
- 14Tan Tarn How, “The normalisation of the political cyberspace since the 2011 GE,” Today, August 25, 2015, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/normalisation-political-cyberspac…; Tan Tarn How, Tng Ying Hui, and Andrew Yeo, “Whispers, not shouts: A re-reading of the social media space,” The Straits Times, December 4, 2015, https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/whispers-not-shouts-a-re-reading-o….
- 15Charmaine Poh, “Interview with Mark Tan: The Man Behind Rice Media,” High Net Worth, January 25, 2019, https://www.hnworth.com/article/2019/01/25/mark-tan-the-man-behind-rice….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 4.004|
While the online information landscape is significantly more diverse than offline media, most independent and opposition-oriented online news outlets are too small and weak to counterbalance the media domination of the PAP establishment. Struggling financially and working with limited resources, independent sources of online news are unable to challenge the newsgathering and dissemination capabilities of mainstream media.
The closure of The Online Citizen (see B6) and consolidation of SPH Media Trust (see B5) in 2021 further inhibited the diversity of online content.
The only two licensed outlets that do not belong to national mainstream media firms are Yahoo Singapore’s news site and Mothership. After Yahoo was licensed, its reporters were granted the official accreditation that they had sought for several years. In 2015, Mothership became the first individually licensed site that was not part of a major corporation, after it crossed the regulatory threshold of 50,000 visitors a month.1 Although it is popular for its irreverent commentary, Mothership is not considered an antiestablishment outlet. Other commercial outlets, such as Rice Media,2 have gained traction online. However, they are also subject to the same pressures of legal restrictions and self-censorship as all other media platforms in the country. In February 2022, Mothership’s press accreditation was suspended for six months after they broke an embargo on information from the national budget.3
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and international blog-hosting services are freely available. All major opposition parties and many NGOs are active online. Activists and other civil society groups are also able to be vocal about a variety of issues on social media platforms.
- 1“Mothership.sg to come under online news licensing framework,” Channel News Asia, July 30, 2015, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/mothershipsg-told-to-comply-with….
- 2See Rice Media, https://www.ricemedia.co/.
- 3Wong Shiying and David Sun, “Mothership's press accreditation suspended with immediate effect for breaking Budget embargo,” The Straits Times, February 19, 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/politics/motherships-press-accre…
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||3.003 6.006|
The internet is regularly used for popular mobilization by groups from across the political spectrum, and mobilization tools are unrestricted. The success of these efforts is significantly constrained by police investigations and arrests for those participating in online activism, as well as by offline restrictions on fundraising and public assembly. There is only one location—a small downtown park known as Speakers’ Corner—where Singaporeans can gather without a police permit. However, during most of the coverage period, this park was closed because of ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.1 The country’s restrictive laws generally limit public demonstrations, including solo protests (see C2 and C3).
With the introduction of social-distancing rules and a partial lockdown in Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic, civil society events shifted online, which allowed organizers to accommodate and reach more people. For example, Pink Dot, Singapore’s largest LGBT+ pride rally was held as a virtual event, instead of its usual gathering in Speakers’ Corner, in June 20202 and June 2021.3
In late 2021 and early 2022, Singaporean activists used social media to rally support for the campaign against the death penalty, particularly in relation to the case of Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, a death-row prisoner with psychosocial disabilities. A petition calling on the Singapore President to pardon him garnered over 100,000 signatures.4 The momentum that built online also moved offline, with protests against the death penalty at Speakers’ Corner drawing hundreds of people—an unusually good turnout by Singapore standards.5
During the pandemic, political candidates also conducted campaign events ahead the July 2020 general election online. Large political rallies were banned, so opposition parties used social media platforms to address voters, hosting Facebook Live talk shows and engaging with voters through Twitter and Instagram.6
In May 2021, Leong Sze Hian, a financial adviser and government critic, and blogger Roy Ngerng, successfully crowdfunded tens of thousands of dollars to pay damages and court fees after they were sued for defamation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (see C3). They collectively raised over S$400,000 (US$293,000).7
- 1Singapore National Parks, “Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park,” https://www.nparks.gov.sg/speakers-corner
- 2Cheryl Teh, “Annual Pink Dot event goes online; organisers to rally LGBTQ community with virtual events,” June 9, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/annual-pink-dot-event-goes-onlin…
- 3Pink Dot, “Press Release: Pink Dot 13- Let Light Lead the Way,” May 11, 2021, https://pinkdot.sg/2021/05/pink-dot-13-let-light-lead-the-way/
- 4“Pardon the death sentence of an intellectually disabled man,” Change.org, accessed September 20, 2022, https://www.change.org/p/pardon-the-death-sentence-of-an-intellectually…
- 5Suranjana Tewari, “How a Singapore execution set off a wave of protest,” BBC, May 28, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-61403692.
- 6Hariz Baharudin and Yuen Sin, “Singapore GE2020: Lessons learnt from Singapore’s First true Internet election,” July 15, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/lessons-learnt-from-singapores-fi…
- 7“Critic Leong Sze Hian Asks for More Help- This Time to Pay Lee’ Legal Fees,” April 16, 2021, https://coconuts.co/singapore/news/critic-leong-sze-hian-asks-for-more-…; Philip Heijmans, “Singapore Bloggers Turn to Crowdfunding to Pay Defamation Bills,” May 17, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-17/crowdfunding-helps-s…
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||1.001 6.006|
The constitution enshrines freedom of expression, but it also grants Parliament the authority to impose limits on that freedom.1
FICA was passed by Parliament in October 2021, giving the government—in particular, the minister for home affairs—the power to take action against individuals, publications, and platforms suspected of being involved in foreign interference (see B3). The law, like POFMA, also allows the government to demonetize platforms. Appeals can only be made to the minister for home affairs or a government-appointed reviewing tribunal.
POFMA, which came into effect in October 2019, gives individual government ministers broad power to order the blocking and removal of online content that they deem a “false statement of fact” and contrary to the public interest (see B3). Ministers can also order social media platforms to issue general corrections to their end users. Appeals can only be made to the High Court if the minister who ordered content removed fails to revise the initial decision, essentially giving ministers the ability to decide what is true or false twice before the judiciary weighs in. The legislation does not clearly explain what constitutes false or misleading content and broadly defines “public interest” to include the preservation of “public tranquility,” “friendly relations” with other countries, and public confidence in government institutions.2 The law was adopted based on the recommendations of Parliament’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which released its report in September 2018.3
Contempt of court charges have been lodged to stifle public debate in Singapore, including against bloggers who wrote about issues such as discrimination against LGBT+ people and the treatment of opposition politicians in the courts.4 A contempt of court law was passed by Parliament in 2016, and it came into force a year later (see C2).5
The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and the Broadcasting Act, which also covers the internet, grant sweeping powers to ministers as well as significant scope for administrative officials to apply vaguely articulated subsidiary regulations as they see fit, including website licensing and registration rules (see B6). Other laws that have been used to restrict online communication, such as the Sedition Act, are open to broad interpretation by the authorities (see C2).
- 1Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, Section 14.
- 2Parliament of Singapore, “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill,” April 1, 2019, https://www.parliament.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-libr….
- 3Parliament of Singapore, “Report of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehood,” 2018, https://www.parliament.gov.sg/docs/default-source/Press-Releases/execut….
- 4“Singapore blogger convicted of contempt of court,” Committee to Protect Journalists, January 23, 2015, https://cpj.org/2015/01/singapore-blogger-convicted-of-contempt-of-cour…; “Singapore: End ‘Scandalizing the Judiciary’ Prosecutions,” Human Rights Watch, August 7, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/08/07/singapore-end-scandalizing-judiciar….
- 5Fathin Ungku, “Singapore parliament passes controversial contempt of court bill,” Reuters, August 15, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-singapore-rights/singapore-parliamen….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
Several laws apply criminal and civil penalties to online activities. The 2018 Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act gives the authorities the power to ban communications—including videos, images, text, or audio messages—in the event of a “serious incident.” The definition of a “serious incident” encompasses terrorist attacks as well as peaceful protests such as large sit-down demonstrations.1 Those found guilty of violating the law could be sentenced to up to two years in prison and a fine of S$20,000 (US$15,000).2 The measure effectively allows heavy restrictions on online journalism and information sharing surrounding major public events.
In 2016, Parliament passed a new statute codifying the offense of contempt of court.3 The Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, which came into force in 2017, specifies criminalizes the publishing of material that interferes with ongoing judicial proceedings or to “scandalize the court” by publishing anything that “imputes improper motives to or impugns the integrity, propriety, or impartiality of any court” or “poses a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined.” The law lowered the threshold for what constitutes a “risk” of harm to the administration of justice. It also allows the attorney general to “direct the publisher of any matter to refrain from or cease publishing” content that might be in contempt of court. The maximum penalty under the law is three years in prison and a fine of S$100,000 (US$73,000), a harsher punishment than judges had previously imposed.4
The Sedition Act, which dates to the colonial era, makes it an offense “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the government” or “to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.”5 Punishments for first-time offenders can include a prison term of up to three years. Section 298 of the penal code provides for prison terms of up to three years for offenders who act through any medium with the “deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person.”6 Police appear to regularly investigate such complaints.
Defamation is criminalized in the penal code (see C3).7 In addition to criminal charges, civil defamation suits remain a powerful deterrent. PAP leaders have been awarded damages ranging from S$100,000 (US$73,000) to S$300,000 (US$219,000) in defamation suits brought against opposition politicians and foreign media corporations.8
Under the 2014 Protection from Harassment Act, a person who uses “threatening, abusive, or insulting” language likely to cause “harassment, alarm, or distress” can be fined up to S$5,000 (US$3,700).9 Victims can also apply to the court for a protection order, which could include a ban on continued publication of the offending communication. Another provision in the law provides civil remedies for the publication of “false statements of fact” about a person. The affected party can seek a court order requiring that the publication of the falsehood cease unless a notice is inserted to correct the record. The law was amended in May 2019 to outlaw doxing (the publishing of personal information about a perceived opponent online) with intent to either harass or provoke the use of violence. The amendments also allow victims of harassment to seek protection for family members or prevent similar material from being circulated.10
Singapore’s broad public assembly laws, such as the Public Order Act, have been used in prosecutions that cite people’s online activity (see C3).11 Those convicted of organizing public assemblies without a permit can be fined up to S$5,000 (US$3,700); repeat offenders can be fined up to S$10,000 (US$7,300) and imprisoned for up to six months.
POFMA includes harsh penalties for online activities. For example, the malicious communication of statements that are “false or misleading” can lead to fines of up to S$50,000 (US$37,000) or up to five years’ imprisonment. Failure to comply with orders to correct or remove content can draw fines of up to S$20,000 (US$15,000) or up to one year of imprisonment (see B3).
FICA includes criminal penalties for covert electronics communication activity on behalf of a foreign principal. Penalties can go up to a fine of S$100,000 (US$73,000) and 14 years’ imprisonment (see B3). Even preparing or planning for such an offense is criminalized, with a penalty of up to S$60,000 (US$44,000) in fines and/or prison terms of up to nine years (see B3).12
- 1Parliament of Singapore, “Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill,” February 27, 2019, https://www.parliament.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-libr….
- 2“Singapore: Reject Sweeping Public Order Bill,” Human Rights Watch, March 12, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/12/singapore-reject-sweeping-public-or….
- 3Fathin Ungku, “Singapore parliament passes controversial contempt of court bill,” Reuters, August 15, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-singapore-rights/singapore-parliamen….
- 4Remy Choo, “New bill on Contempt of Court proposes unusually harsh punishment,” The Online Citizen, July 12, 2016, https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2016/07/12/new-bill-on-contempt-of-cou…; David Tan, “Any Risk Will Do – The New Law on Scandalising Contempt in Singapore,” Singapore Law Gazette, September 2016, https://law.nus.edu.sg/about_us/news/2016/AnyRiskWillDo(SepSLG).pdf.
- 5Sedition Act (Chapter 290) Section 3.
- 6Penal Code (Chapter 224), Section 298.
- 7Penal Code (Chapter 224), Sections 499-500.
- 8Michael Palmer, “Damages in Defamation: What is Considered and What is Awarded?,” The Law Gazette, May 2005, https://v1.lawgazette.com.sg/2005-5/May05-feature3.htm.
- 9Parliament of Singapore, “Protection From Harassment Act,” March 13, 2014, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/PHA2014?&ProvIds=pr3-&ViewType=Advance&Phras….
- 10Nei Rong Wei, “A look at key changes to Protection from Harassment Act,” Today, May 7, 2019, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/look-key-amendments-protection-ha….
- 11Parliament of Singapore, “Public Order Act (Chapter 257A),” May 31, 2012, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/POA2009.
- 12Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021, No. 28 of 2021, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Acts-Supp/28-2021/Published/20211125?DocDate=202….
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||3.003 6.006|
Police opened investigations into individuals for their online activities during the coverage period, and cases initiated prior to the coverage period continued to be adjudicated.
In November 2021, the rapper Subhas Nair was charged with four counts of inciting public ill-will or hostility for social media posts that claimed there are double standards in how people from different ethnic groups are treated in Singapore.1 Officials alleged Nair breached a conditional warning issued in 2019 with his more recent social media posts, and filed charges for the both posts and the rap video.2 In February 2022, Nair indicated that he intended to plead guilty to these four charges, which could entail up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.3
In December 2021, Titus Low, a creator on the adult platform OnlyFans, was charged with two counts of transmitting obscene material by electronic means, as well as a charge under the Criminal Procedure Code for accessing his OnlyFans account after the police had ordered him not to do so.4 In February 2022, he was charged with two more offenses, again for accessing OnlyFans and for transmitting more obscene photographs and videos.5 Low is believed to be the first OnlyFans creator charged for his content in Singapore, which criminalizes the distribution of obscene materials. His case sparked discussions in the country of whether adult content behind a paywall—thus requiring people to actively choose to view it—should be criminalized.6
In January 2022, lawyer and opposition politician Charles Yeo was charged with three counts under the Protection from Harassment Act for making insulting and threatening remarks, and one under the penal code for wounding the religious feelings of Christians.7 Yeo had made comments on his Facebook and Instagram accounts criticizing anti-LGBT+ Christians. He was also accused of making abusive remarks against a police officer. In July 2022, Yeo announced that he was seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom.8
Individuals have been arrested and sentenced to short prison terms for online activities that the government claimed disrupted racial harmony. For instance, in June 2021, Zainal Abidin Shaiful Bahari was sentenced to three weeks imprisonment for posting slurs and discriminatory comments about Indian people on Twitter.9
Users have been investigated and arrested for their online mobilization (see B8). In November 2021, Terry Xu, chief editor of The Online Citizen, and Daniel De Costa, a reader who had written a letter published on the website in 2018 about government corruption, were found guilty of criminal defamation. 10 De Costa was also found guilty of an offense under the Computer Misuse Act.11 Xu was jailed three weeks, while De Costa was given a sentence of three months and three weeks in prison.12 In February 2022, the court fined activist Jolovan Wham S$3,000 (US$2,200) for holding up a sign in support of Xu and De Costa, which he then posted on social media.13 The High Court dismissed the appeal against his sentence and conviction in September 2022.14 Wham had also been charged for posting a photo of himself holding a cardboard placard in public with a smiley face drawn on it in support of climate activists Wong J-min and Nguyen Nhat Minh, though that charge was dropped.15
In another case involving The Online Citizen, a court ordered Xu to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong S$210,000 (US$154,000) in damages over a defamation claim in September 2021.16 The prime minister sued Xu in September 2019 over an article that referenced claims made by Lee’s estranged sister that he had misled their father, longtime prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, about the status of the family home.17
Journalists of prominent independent online news outlets have been investigated for their online activities. In March 2021, Xu posted on Facebook claiming that the police had confiscated his phone and laptop from his home. In the post, Xu also claimed that the police requested he visit the police headquarters to be questioned but was told not to share details about the investigation.18 In the same month, Thum Ping Tjin, the managing director of New Naratif, was summoned for questioning by the police for a second time. The police were investigating New Naratif’s alleged illegal election advertising (see B2). Thum’s mobile phone and laptop were also seized.
Users were prosecuted for online activity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2021, during the previous coverage period, an individual was charged under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act for sending an email to a university researcher in which he falsely claimed he could not attend a research session because he tested positive for COVID-19.19
During the pandemic, civil servants have been charged under the Official Secrets Act for leaking information before they were officially announced.20 In May 2022, a deputy director of the National Library Board was jailed for four weeks for communicating information to a WhatsApp chat group about the relaxation of pandemic rules before they were made public.21
- 1Daryl Choo, “Rapper Subhas Nair charged with 4 counts of attempting to promote ill-will between religious, racial groups,” Today Online, November 1, 2021, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/rapper-subhas-nair-charged-4-coun…
- 2Ng Jun Sen, “Rapper Subhas Nair to be charged over 2019 video, 3 other instances of allegedly promoting ill-will between religious, racial groups,” Today Online, October 28, 2021, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/rapper-subhas-nair-be-charged-ove….
- 3Lydia Lam, “Rapper Subhas Nair set to plead guilty to attempting to promote ill will over religion, race,” CAN, February 2, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/rapper-subhas-nair-set-plead-….
- 4Shaffiq Alkhatib, “OnlyFans user Titus Low charged with offences linked to obscene materials,” The Straits Times, December 30, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/onlyfans-online-con….
- 5Wan Ting Koh, “OnlyFans content creator Titus Low handed two new charges,” Yahoo! News, February 16, 2022, https://sg.news.yahoo.com/onlyfans-content-creator-titus-low-two-new-ch….
- 6@ProjectX_SG, “This is Project X's statement on the recent new about Titus Low.,” Twitter post, January 4, 2022, https://twitter.com/ProjectX_SG/status/1478377034996928513?s=20&t=zWn4W…
- 7Lydia Lam, “Charles Yeo charged with harassing police, wounding religious feelings of Christians,” CNA, January 19, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/charles-yeo-charged-harassing…
- 8Vanessa Paige Chelvan, “Lawyer Charles Yeo seeking ‘political asylum’ in the UK,” CNA, August 1, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/charles-yeo-political-asylum-…
- 9Lydia Lam, “Man Jailed for Racially Offensive Tweets Under Pseudonym ‘Sharon Liew’,” June 8, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/sharon-liew-racist-tweet…
- 10https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/jolovan-wham-illegal-pro…; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55068007
- 11Shaffiq Alkhativ, “TOC defamation trial: Terry Xu and contributor found guilty of defaming Cabinet members,” The Straits Times, November 12, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/toc-defamation-tria….
- 13Davina Tham, “The Online Citizen's Terry Xu and writer get jail for criminal defamation over article calling Cabinet corrupt,” CAN, April 21, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/jolovan-wham-fined-hold-sign-….
- 14Lydia Lam, “Jolovan Wham fails in appeal over unlawful assembly outside court, chooses to go to jail again,” CNA, September 9, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/jolovan-wham-fails-appeal-ove…
- 15Davina Tham, “Jolovan Wham fined S$3,000 for unlawful assembly outside State Courts,” CNA, February 25, 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/activist-jolovan-wh…
- 16“PM Lee win defamation suits, awarded S$210,000 in damages against TOC editor Terry Xu and writer,” Channel News Asia, September 1, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/lee-hsien-loong-damages-defam…
- 17Rei Kurohi, “PM Lee Hsien Loong sues TOC editor Terry Xu over allegedly defamatory online article and Facebook post,” The Straits Times, September 5, 2019, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/pm-lee-sues-toc-editor-terry-xu-….
- 18Terry Xu, March 7, 2021, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/terryxyc/posts/10159416321408919
- 19Lydia Lam, “Man charged with sending false message to NTU researcher that he had COVID-19,” CNA, May 17, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/man-charged-sending-fals…
- 20“Public servant arrested under OSA over leak of COVID-19 curbs for sport and physical activities,“ CAN, May 30, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/man-arrested-osa-leak-whatsap…
- 21Jean Iau, “NLB deputy director jailed for 4 weeks for leaking details of phase 2 reopening,” The Straits Times, May 24, 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/nlb-deputy-director…
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||2.002 4.004|
While many people attempt to communicate anonymously online in Singapore, their ability to conceal their identities from the government is limited.
Registration is required for some forms of digital interaction. Government-issued identity cards or passports must be produced when buying SIM cards, including prepaid cards, and buyers’ personal details must be electronically recorded by vendors. Registration for the [email protected] public Wi-Fi network also requires identity details.
The government does not restrict the use of encryption tools. However, the criminal procedure code allows authorities to require access to decryption information or technology if it is available.1 With authorization from the public prosecutor, police can require individuals to hand over decryption codes. Failure to provide decryption information can result in fines of up to S$10,000 (US$7,300), jail terms of up to three months, or both.2
FICA criminalizes electronic communications activity designated as foreign interference if it is “covert or involves deception.” Explanatory notes provided with the bill explained that the term “covert” is “intended to cover any conduct that is hidden or secret, or lacking transparency”, and mentions use of encrypted communication platforms as an example of covert behavior.3
- 1Global Partners Digital, “World map of encryption laws and policies,” https://www.gp-digital.org/world-map-of-encryption/.
- 2Criminal Procedure Code (Chapter 68) Section 40.
- 3Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021, No. 28 of 2021, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Acts-Supp/28-2021/Published/20211125?DocDate=202….
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
Singapore has no constitutionally recognized right to privacy, and law enforcement authorities have broad powers to search electronic devices without judicial authorization, including while people are in custody (see C3).1 The full extent of the government’s surveillance capabilities and practices is unknown.
In February 2022, Reuters reported that the Israeli spy firm QuaDream had the ability to exploit a flaw in Apple software and noted the Singapore government as one of QuaDream’s clients.2 In response to a question asked in Parliament, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Sustainability and the Environment Desmond Tan said that state agencies “rely on a range of intelligence capabilities, including harnessing technology” to safeguard Singapore, and that the government cannot discuss specifics for national security reasons.3 Following this disclosure, Sylvia Lim, the chairman of the opposition Workers’ Party, revealed that she had received a threat notification from Apple informing her that her iPhone could have been targeted by “state-sponsored attackers.” Minister for Home Affairs and Law Shanmugam denied that state agencies had hacked her phone.4
In December 2021, multiple Singaporeans—including The Online Citizen chief editor Terry Xu and journalist Kirsten Han—said that they had received security notices from Facebook saying that their accounts were targeted by attackers.5 These notifications were among the 50,000 sent by Facebook to users around the world to warn of activity by mercenary spy firms.6
Privacy International notes that Singapore’s law enforcement agencies have sophisticated technological capabilities to monitor telephone and other digital communications. According to the group, surveillance is facilitated by the fact that “the legal framework regulating interception of communication falls short of applicable international human rights standards, and judicial authorization is sidelined and democratic oversight inexistent.”7
A number of laws provide the government with access to users’ personal information. For example, some members of Parliament have expressed privacy concerns about the 2018 Cybersecurity Act, which allows authorized officers to take or make copies of hard disks as part of investigations or assessments of cybersecurity threats (see C8).8
Under the criminal procedure code, police officers investigating arrestable offenses may at any time access and search the data of any computer they suspect has been used in connection with the offense.9 No warrant or special authorization is needed. The police have seized electronic devices in relation to several investigations in recent years, including those of Jolovan Wham, Terry Xu, and Daniel De Costa (see C3).10 Penalties for noncompliance can include a fine of up to S$5,000 (US$3,700), six months in jail, or both.
According to information leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, SingTel has facilitated intelligence agencies’ access to traffic carried on a major undersea telecommunications cable.11
In January 2021, the government confirmed that law enforcement officials could obtain data collected by contact tracing systems for criminal investigations.12 The TraceTogether app, which uses Bluetooth technology to identify and notify people who have been in close contact with infected individuals, was made mandatory for migrant workers living in dormitories or working in industrial sectors in May 2020. 13 14 A new system that merged TraceTogether and SafeEntry, which requires individuals to log their identification number before entering public venues, was made mandatory for “high-risk” venues, like offices, in May 2021.15 Following public backlash, the government passed the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill, which restricted law enforcement officials from using the data unless investigating cases of serious offenses, including terrorism, kidnapping, rape, murder, and drug trafficking.16
In May 2021, some Singaporeans claimed they were denied entry to a driving center after their TraceTogether apps showed that they had been in close proximity to individuals infected with COVID-19; this section of the app was only intended for an individual’s personal reference.17
- 1Privacy International, “The Right to Privacy in Singapore,” June 2015, https://privacyinternational.org/sites/default/files/2017-12/Singapore_…; M. Ravi, “At what cost of citizen’s privacy, comes their freedom and security,” The Online Citizen, May 12, 2016, http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2016/05/at-what-cost-of-citizens-privac….
- 2Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter, “EXCLUSIVE iPhone flaw exploited by second Israeli spy firm-sources,” Reuters, February 3, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/technology/exclusive-iphone-flaw-exploited-by-s…
- 3“Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on the Israeli Company QuaDream’s Spyware,” Ministry of Home Affairs, February 18, 2022, https://www.mha.gov.sg/mediaroom/parliamentary/oral-reply-to-pq-on-the-…
- 4Kenny Chee, “WP chairman Sylvia Lim's phone not hacked by Singapore Govt: Shanmugam,” The Straits Times, February 19, 2022, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/politics/wp-chairman-sylvia-lims….
- 5Kirsten Han, Facebook post, December 16, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/kixes/posts/pfbid0ByDpv9bCSqrpzA8qWbTphBpq66bP….
- 6Raphael Satter and Elizabeth Culliford, “Facebook exposes mercenary spy firms that targeted 50,000 people,” Reuters, December 17, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-exposes-mercenary-spy-firms….
- 7Privacy International, “The Right to Privacy in Singapore,” June 2015, https://privacyinternational.org/sites/default/files/2017-12/Singapore_….
- 8Jalelah Abu Baker, “Cybersecurity Bill passed in Parliament; MPs raise questions on privacy, cost,” Channel Asia News, February 5, 2018, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/cybersecurity-bill-passe….
- 9Criminal Procedure Code (Chapter 68) Section 39.
- 10“Police seize equipment from The Online Citizen in defamation investigation,” Yahoo News Singapore, November 20, 2018, https://sg.news.yahoo.com/police-seize-equipment-online-citizen-defamat…; Lim Min Zhang and Tan Tam Mei, “TOC editor one of two men to be charged with criminal defamation,” The Straits Times, December 13, 2018, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/toc-editor-one-of-two-men-to-be-….
- 11Phillip Dorling, “Australian spies in global deal to tap undersea cables,” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 29, 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/australian-spies-in-gl…; Zurairi AR, “Top-Secret exposé: Singapore helping US spy on Malaysia,” Malay Mail, November 25, 2013, https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2013/11/25/top-secret-expose-si….
- 12Kirsten Han, “Broken promises: How Singapore lost trust on contact tracing privacy,” January 11, 2021, MIT Technology Project, https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/01/11/1016004/singapore-tracetoge…
- 13Ministry of Manpower, “New Resources to Provide Better Care for Migrant Workers,” May 27, 2020, https://www.mom.gov.sg/newsroom/press-releases/2020/0527-new-resources-….
- 14Irene Tham, “No other way but to make use of TraceTogether mandatory,” The Straits Times, May 1, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/no-other-way-but-to-make-use-of-….
- 15Low Zoey, “Mandatory TraceTogether-Safe Entry brought forward to May 17,” Channel News Asia, May 11, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid19-tracetogether-sa…
- 16Navene Elangovan & Daryl Choo, “Parliament passes bill specifying use of TraceTogether, SafeEntry data by police,” February 2, 2021, Today, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/parliament-passes-bill-specifying…
- 17Charlotte Chong & Ang Qing, “Students of driving school turned away as TraceTogether records show close proximity to COVID-19 cases,” The Strait Times, May 7, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/driving-students-turned-away-as-…
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||3.003 6.006|
In the absence of a constitutional right to privacy, service providers and technology companies can be required to hand information over to the government.
Website registration requirements, though imposed on only a small number of platforms, have raised concerns about unwarranted official intrusion into the sites’ operations and the personal information of subscribers (see B6).
Government authorities can request metadata and content from international social media platforms and other tech companies when required for the investigation of offenses, the government has said.1 The Personal Data Protection Act exempts public agencies and organizations acting on their behalf from compliance with its privacy safeguards.2 Recent transparency reports from various social media and technology companies indicate the extent to which the government seeks access to Singaporean users’ data. From January to June 2021, Facebook reported receiving 1,231 requests from the Singapore government for the details of 2,721 accounts, more than double than the number of accounts in the same period of the previous year. Facebook provided the data in 74 percent of the cases.3 From July to December 2020, Google received 671 user data disclosure requests related to 1,415 Google accounts. Some data were provided in 84 percent of the cases.4 From January to June 2021, Twitter received 15 information requests from the government, related to 16 specified accounts; Twitter complied in 13 percent of the cases.5
- 1Parliament of Singapore, “Singapore Government's Requests to Web Services Companies for User Data,” October 21, 2013, https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/sprs3topic?reportid=written-answer-na-1….
- 2Personal Data Protection Commission Singapore, “PDPA Overview,” June 4, 2020, https://www.pdpc.gov.sg/Overview-of-PDPA/The-Legislation/Personal-Data-….
- 3Facebook Transparency, “Singapore,”https://transparency.fb.com/data/government-data-requests/country/SG/. .
- 4Google Transparency Report, “Global requests for user information,” https://transparencyreport.google.com/user-data/overview?hl=en&user_req….
- 5“Information Requests,” Twitter Transparency Center, 2021, https://transparency.twitter.com/en/reports/information-requests.html#2…
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||3.003 5.005|
Internet users did not experience violence in retaliation for their online activities during the coverage period. However, due to the lack of protections for the expression of unpopular or dissenting views, ICT users do not operate in an environment free of fear.
In October 2021, during the parliamentary debate over FICA, Minister for Home Affairs and Law Shanmugam singled out three Singaporeans—The Online Citizen’s chief editor Terry Xu, New Naratif’s managing director Thum Ping Tjin, and independent journalist and activist Kirsten Han—as possibly being agents of foreign interference.1 He described Thum and Han, who had campaigned online against the passage of FICA, as being “chief” among those spreading misinformation about the bill, and pointed to them having receiving funding from Open Society Foundations, a grant-giving body founded by George Soros. He also pointed to Xu’s hiring of non-Singaporean writers to produce content—which he described as “incendiary articles on Singapore”—for The Online Citizen.
In June 2021, Minister Shanmugam criticized The Online Citizen for sharing footage and publishing articles claiming that the police had bullied an elderly woman for not wearing a mask (see B2). He accused the outlet of having manipulated an elderly woman with dementia into making claims in a video interview.2 The minister’s comments sparked an online backlash against the independent news website, which was issued a POFMA order against this coverage.
In June 2020, the ruling party published a blog post on its website that questioned the loyalty of playwright and poet Alfian Sa’at, a vocal online critic of the government.3 In July 2020, the police announced that then opposition candidate Raeesah Khan was being investigated for comments that allegedly sowed ill-will between racial groups; the PAP released a statement stating without substantiation that Khan had made derogatory comments against Chinese and Christians.4
- 1“Second Reading of Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law,“ Ministry of Home Affairs, October 4, 2021, https://www.mha.gov.sg/mediaroom/parliamentary/second-reading-of-foreig…
- 2Aqil Haziq Muhamud, “The Online Citizen’s video on allegations of police bullying elderly woman is ‘despicable’: Shanmugam,” Channel News Asia, May 26, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/police-bully-elderly-wom…
- 3“Mr. Pritam Singh support Alfian Sa’at,” June 19, 2020, PAP.org, https://www.pap.org.sg/news/opinion-news/mr-pritam-singh-supports-alfia…
- 4Grace Ho, “Singapore GE2020: WP should state stand on Raeesah Khan’s posts, not ask voters to write it a ‘blank cheque’ in Sengkang, says Pap,” The Strait Times, July 6, 2020, https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/singapore-ge2020-wp-should-state-…
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||2.002 3.003|
Cyberattacks against government entities, media outlets, and civil society organizations have historically not been a widespread problem in Singapore. Private companies in Singapore were subjected to technical attacks and other privacy breaches during the coverage period.
Consumer data breaches are common and affect thousands of Singaporeans. In August 2021, for example, telecommunications company StarHub revealed that the identity card numbers, addresses, and email addresses of over 57,000 customers had been leaked.1
In February 2021, during the previous coverage period, Singtel revealed that personal information of nearly 130,000 customers’ had been stolen following the breach of a third-party file-sharing system.2
In January 2019, the government announced that the personal data of 14,200 people with HIV who either lived in Singapore or had visited the country was leaked.3 The person who allegedly leaked the information was a US citizen who was previously incarcerated for fabricating his academic qualifications and his own HIV test in order to obtain an employment visa in Singapore.
The 2018 Cybersecurity Act requires owners of computer systems that deal with essential services pertaining to national security, public safety, or the economy to report cybersecurity incidents and conduct audits and risk assessments, among other obligations.
- 1Irene Tham, “More than 57,000 StarHub customers' personal data leaked,” The Straits Times, August 6, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/more-than-57000-starhub-customers-per…
- 2“Nearly 130,000 Singtel customers’ personal information, including NRIC details, stolen in data breach,” Channel News Aisa, February 18, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singtel-data-breach-cust…
- 3Singapore Ministry of Health, “Unauthorized Possession and Disclosure of Information from HIV Registry,” January 28, 2019, https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/unauthorised-possession-….
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score47 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score54 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusPartly Free