FICA was passed by Parliament on 4 October 2021 and assented to by the President on 29 October 2021. The Act is being brought into force progressively. Provisions related to countering foreign interference by hostile information campaigns came into force on 7 July 2022 by notification in the Gazette.
Foreign interference may take the form of foreign actors seeking to manipulate our domestic politics, including through covert and deceptive means, to undermine our political sovereignty and harm our social cohesion.
As an open, highly digitally connected, and diverse society, Singapore is especially vulnerable to the evolving threat of foreign interference. Singapore was the subject of foreign interference in the past and is not immune to such threats. Therefore, we need to constantly update our laws to tackle the threat and ensure that Singaporeans alone decide on matters of governance and domestic politics.
The legislation introduces countermeasures to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in our domestic politics conducted through (i) hostile information campaigns and (ii) local proxies (Politically Significant Persons).
The Internet has created a powerful new medium for foreign interference. Foreign actors have leveraged digital technologies to carry out HICs, using online tools and sophisticated information operations to advance a foreign country’s interests. HICs may seek to polarise the society of the targeted country, influence its domestic political discourse, and undermine its political sovereignty.
FICA empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to issue FICA directions to various entities such as social media services, relevant electronic services, internet access services, as well as persons who own or run websites, blogs or social media pages, to help the authorities investigate and counter hostile communications activity that is of foreign origin.
The directions will enable the Government to obtain information to determine if there is an ongoing HIC and whether it originates from a foreign source. FICA also provide targeted powers for the Government to contain the spread of HICs and mitigate the harms caused. Examples of directions that can be issued include directions for a communicator to take down their content, for an internet intermediary such as a social media service to take down their content, or suspend or disable the account, such that the content is not viewable by end-users in Singapore. Non-compliance with directions is an offence.
Online locations found to be spreading HICs may be declared as a Proscribed Online Location (POL). Once proscribed, it is an offence to operate this POL, provide support to it, or have advertising dealings with it. The proprietor of the POL may be required to put up a notice to inform any visitors to the online location of its proscribed status.
Recipients of directions and declarations may apply to the Minister for Home Affairs to vary or cancel the direction or declaration. If the application is refused, recipients may appeal to an independent Reviewing Tribunal, which has the authority to overrule the Minister. The Reviewing Tribunal is chaired by a sitting Supreme Court Judge. See Resources for more information.
FICA also introduces offences related to clandestine foreign interference by electronic communications activity, for perpetrating HICs in a clandestine way. Such offences deal with persons who covertly and knowingly act against Singapore’s public interest on behalf of a foreign principal. They do not cover Singaporeans acting on their own accord or foreigners making open and attributable comments, nor do they cover unintentional acts.
Individuals and organisations who are directly involved in Singapore’s political processes will be defined as Politically Significant Persons (PSPs) and will be subject to countermeasures to mitigate the risk of foreign interference:
In addition, a competent authority (appointed by the Minister for Home Affairs) can designate other individuals and organisations as PSPs if their activities are directed towards a political end, and the competent authority assesses that it is in the public interest that countermeasures be applied.
Defined and designated PSPs will be subjected to countermeasures covering the following vectors of foreign influence – donations, volunteers, leadership and membership, and affiliations. If there are increased risks of foreign interference, the competent authority can step up countermeasures on the defined and designated PSPs.
These measures will be brought into force at a later stage, and will replace existing measures under the Political Donations Act 2000.