Singapore Urges Stronger Laws Empowering Online Harm Victims
A Tale of Cyberbullying
In the bustling city-state of Singapore, a woman, who we’ll refer to as ‘Eve’, fell victim to a distressing episode of cyberbullying. She was bombarded with hostile messages on a popular social app, which soon spilled over to other social media platforms such as LinkedIn. The messages, initially characterized by their impersonal nature, began to grow increasingly personal. This led Eve to suspect that her harasser was someone from her close circle of acquaintances. Although law enforcement managed to deal with the culprit, Eve is still grappling with the emotional and psychological aftermath of the incident.
The Need for Stronger Legislation
This incident shines a spotlight on the urgent need for more robust laws to safeguard individuals from the menace of online harm. Speaking at the Online Harms Symposium, Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam, emphasized the importance of law enhancement to protect victims of cyberbullying and online sexual harassment. He pointed out that societies worldwide are currently trailing in their efforts to address this issue effectively.
The Online Criminal Harms Act
In response to such growing concerns, Singapore’s government has taken a significant step by passing the Online Criminal Harms Act in Parliament. This act empowers the government to instruct individuals, entities, online service providers, and app stores to remove or block access to content suspected of being used for criminal activities. The act makes special provisions for scams and malicious cyber activities, recognizing the need for proactive approaches to prevent such harms.
International Benchmarking and Broader Scope
The Minister for Communications and Information, Josephine Teo, highlighted that there is a growing international consensus on the need for new rules to combat online criminal harms. The United Kingdom, European Union, Germany, and Australia have already introduced or are in the process of introducing new laws to address this issue. These countries served as useful references in formulating Singapore’s legal proposals. The Online Criminal Harms Act covers a broader scope of online criminal harms, including illegal money lending, unlawful gambling, and drug-related offenses, compared to the Broadcasting Act amended in 2022.
Addressing Scams and Malicious Cyber Activities
Teo underscored the need for a lower threshold to issue directions for scams and malicious cyber activities, given the speed and scale at which such activities unfold. The act provides the government with targeted levers to issue directions against these activities, even when there is only a suspicion that any online activity is being carried out in preparation for or as part of the commission of these offenses.
Overseas Websites and Online Services
Addressing concerns about the applicability of the bill to websites and online services based overseas, Teo assured that the act has provisions that allow the issuing of directions to entities and individuals, even if they have no presence in Singapore. In cases where these individuals choose not to comply, further steps, including prosecution or issuing orders to restrict access, can be taken.
Towards a Safer Online Space
The Online Criminal Harms Act is an important step towards creating a safer online space for Singaporeans. However, the complexity of the online world requires continuous efforts to respond effectively to online criminal harms. The government is actively considering other proposals to further strengthen its regulatory toolkit to protect people from harassment in both the virtual and physical realm.
The issue of cyberbullying and online harassment is a pressing concern not just in Singapore but worldwide. The introduction of the Online Criminal Harms Act in Singapore offers a model for other countries grappling with similar issues. As societies become increasingly digitized, it is crucial for governments to ensure that laws evolve in tandem to protect individuals from online harm.
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