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Singapore has passed its foreign interference law that it said would prevent foreign individuals and groups from interfering in its politics.

“Singapore is vulnerable to ‘hostile information campaigns’ carried out from overseas and through local proxies. The internet has created a powerful new medium for subversion,” said K Shanmugam, Singapore’s law and home affairs minister.

“Countries are actively developing attack and defense capabilities as an arm of warfare, equal to, and more potent than, the land, air and naval forces.”

The bill was pushed through in parliament by the ruling People’s Action Party, which has a majority, despite calls for the bill to be studied further by the opposition party Workers’ Party. There were 75 ‘yes’ votes, 11 ‘no’ votes and two abstentions.

What does the law cover?

  • It allows authorities to compel internet service providers and social media platforms to provide user information, block content and remove applications used to spread content they deem hostile.

  • Groups and individuals involved in local politics can be designated as ‘politically significant persons’, which would require them to disclose foreign funding sources and subject them to other ‘countermeasures’ to reduce the risk of overseas meddling.

  • Offenders risk prison terms and hefty fines on conviction.

Why is this important?

  • Independent media is under scrutiny in Singapore as The Online Citizen was suspended last month for failing to declare its funding sources. The mainstream media is mostly pro-government.

  • Singapore previously passed its new anti-fake news law in 2019, called The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), in parliament with an overwhelming majority from the house.

  • The POFMA gives the government more power to act against the spread of what it has termed as ‘falsehoods’. It puts the power in the hands of ministers to order the correction or removal of online content judged to be a falsehood, but lines have been drawn on what it can act on.

  • In addition, it will also allow the government to impose fines of up to S$1m ($737,790) on tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter if they do not act swiftly to limit the spread of falsehoods by displaying corrections or removing them completely.

  • It will also force tech platforms to disable fake accounts operated by bots and block advertisements on fake news sites, thereby cutting off their revenue streams.