Published: 04 October 2021
1. Mr Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time.”
2. This Bill covers two aspects: dealing with online Hostile Information Campaigns (HICs) conducted by foreign parties – I will refer to this as the “HIC Part”.
3. And the second part, dealing with foreign interference through local proxies. The second part, I will refer to it as the “Politically Significant Persons, or PSP Part”. The second part is about slightly more than half of this Bill. And there is existing law, the Political Donations Act (“PDA”). We have ported over the existing PDA and updated it. MPs will be familiar with the PDA. So, it is the PDA which has been brought into the PSP part of the Bill, with updating.
4. I will set out the reasons for this Bill, deal with some of the concerns that have been raised, and deal with the proposed amendments by the Workers’ Party.
5. My colleagues, Desmond and Faishal will take the Members through the detailed provisions of the Bill.
The Reasons Underpinning This Bill
6. First on the PSP part of the Bill.
7. The philosophy is that our politics is for Singaporeans to deal with. We can argue, disagree. But ultimately, it is for us to decide.
8. If I can quote what the former FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee in March of 2017, and I quote: “One of the things we radiate to the world is the importance of our wonderful, often messy, but free and fair democratic system and the elections that undergird it. And so, when there’s something by a foreign nation state to mess with that, to destroy that, to corrupt that, it is very, very serious and threatens what is America.” The very idea of America.
9. We don’t put it in the same grandiose terms, but Singapore is important for us, and we take the very same approach, and we say it is not for the Americans to tell us what to do as they had tried, and it is not for anyone else to tell us what to do either.
10. And this was expressed in 1973 in the President’s Speech and expressed in law through the PDA. It sets out the rules for interactions with foreigners for election candidates, election agents, and political associations.
11. The PSP part as I said, is based on existing legislation, the PDA, ported over.
12. Over the years, subversion has become an even more serious issue.
13. Modern ease of communications, increased interactions, travel, has made it inevitable that traditional spying and subversion increases in scope and intensity. This is happening in Singapore and elsewhere.
14. Just to give some examples from the last few years. In 2017, an Australian former Senator apparently received donations from an individual with connections to the PRC government, and he then advocated for China’s position on the South China Sea. A former chairman of a European Union foreign friendship group was sponsored flights and hotel stays by a foreign government, and subsequently voiced views that supported that government’s policies on various issues. In 2019, leaked documents revealed that the Russian government was allegedly planning to provide financial and public relations assistance to the election campaign of German politician Markus Frohnmaier, who was known to be very outspoken in favour of ending sanctions and recognising Russia’s Annexation of Crimea.
15. This has also happened in Singapore. Members would be familiar with the expulsion of academic Huang Jing in 2017, for collaborating with foreign intelligence agents. It was an attempt to influence senior decision-makers in Government.
16. Moving on to the HIC part of the Bill, the reasons are straightforward. Spying and subversion in another country is age-old. Using spies, agents, locals, useful idiots, is all part of “Subversion”. As technology developed, the subversion increased, adapted new technology – phone tapping, cameras, recording, micro filming and so on.
17. Now, technology has evolved again, and the Internet has created a powerful new medium for subversion. 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. It is often seen as a 4th arm of service.
18. The Gerasimov Doctrine, named after Russian Chief of Staff, identifies issues of “protest potential” in another country, uses info operations to polarise that society, incite public disorder, keeps target country in a constant state of turmoil. Aggressors can more easily achieve their political and military outcomes.
19. New communication tools facilitate non-kinetic forms of attack and make these harder to detect. For example, bots and digital ads can be easily be bought to spread harmful information. Foreign actors can blend their activities with other authentic online users, which gives readers a false sense of reality. We have an Annex that sets out more details of the Gerasimov Doctrine, the new communications tools, and the HIC tactics used by foreign state actors. Mr Speaker, Sir, with your permission, may I ask for distribution of a folder which contains Annexes [A – I] that I am going to refer to.
20. If Members were to look at Annex A, paragraphs 1, 2, 3 and 4 – it refers to the Russians developing a military doctrine for the Internet age. The doctrine took tactics developed by the Soviets, blended them with strategic military thinking about total war, and laid out a theory of modern warfare. Three, it specifies that the objective is to achieve an environment of permanent unrest and conflict with an enemy state, includes harnessing the protest potential of the population of a target country, deepening the divisions within them, increasing hostility among different groups and getting them to distrust institutions. Four, with this doctrine, the rules of law have changed. Non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals without using the force of weapons, including utilising a range of actors and tools. Hackers, media, businessmen, information leaks, disinformation – is all part and parcel of the new warfare.
21. The Russians are said to have done this. We have no way of verifying that. The following examples which I will refer to are based on reports:
Netherlands. During the Dutch Referendum on the EU-Ukraine FTA. Russians pretended to be Ukrainians, inflamed local debates, supported by online disinformation campaign involving fake stories about Ukraine, and Dutch voters eventually voted against the FTA.
22. Annex B sets out some of the details. If Members were to see Annex B, page 8 refers to Ukraine. If you look at item 3, it is what I have referred to. Item 4, the use of tools. Page 10 para 6, the consequences as a result of the campaign. Page 11, the interference of the Czech Republic. Para 2 sets out how it has been successful. 53 per cent of the Czechs believed there is propaganda both for and against foreign country in the Czech public space and therefore they cannot trust anything. That’s another objective that people try and achieve – make you distrustful of everything. And page 12, interference in Netherlands, the box sets out the reference to the FTA Referendum. More recently, Russia was allegedly engaged in campaigns to erode trust in the EU’s COVID-19 strategy, and to spread skepticism of Western-developed vaccines. As I said earlier, Russia is repeatedly mentioned. I am repeating what others have said. Singapore does not take a position on this.
23. Countries other than Russia are also said to have been using these strategies. In May 2019, a disinformation network was traced to Iran. This comprised fake persons who sought to influence US policymakers, and also reporters and academics, to carry their views. Some of these were eventually published in legitimate publications. Annex C sets out more details of reports that have identified Iran as a foreign state actor.
24. In Dec 2020, the BBC reported on a vast 15-year global disinformation campaign to serve one particular country’s interests. This campaign spread over at least 116 countries – more than half of the world’s countries – targeted members of the European Parliament as well as the United Nations, involved the use of stolen accounts and at least 750 fake media outlets which were amplified with the help of a legitimate foreign wire service. So, you can see the use of legitimate news organisations.
25. February 2021, the Social Media analysis firm Graphika released a report on a propaganda-coordinated network in favour of one country called “Spamouflage Dragon”. Using a mixture of bots, fake accounts, stolen accounts and so on, to push and amplify videos and media targeting issues such as the safety of Western-made vaccines, and discrediting the US.
26. A 2020 study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that there has been a significant increase worldwide in foreign interference. Between 2015 and 2020, at least 38 Elections and six Referendums were impacted. The international media regularly names Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. I don’t know whether these countries in fact did what they are said to have done, but few doubt that they have the capabilities.
27. It is notable that the US and other Western countries are not mentioned, generally, in these reports, because they are Western media reports. But anyone sensible will know that the US, UK, western countries, have similar or perhaps, in the case of the US, even superior capabilities. Really, there are no angels in this game.
28. The Washington Post reported on 11 February 2020 that a Swiss encryption communications provider, had sold devices to more than 120 countries. That company was actually secretly owned by the CIA and the German Intelligence. They had rigged the devices to read encrypted communications of all the countries, all the 120 odd countries, that had bought the system. Reading secret, most confidential communications of their own allies, and of course adversaries.
29. The story was then released years after, after everything had been done and closed. The Washington Post wrote up the exposé, based on a CIA internal history of the operation in 2004. So, CIA history was in 2004. Washington Post released the story in 2020, and they also based it on an internal oral history project by the German intelligence in 2008. But everything was kept under wraps, until simultaneously published by the Post and a German broadcaster on 11 February 2020. So, it has all the hallmarks of a deliberate, planned leak. Members might recall that at about the same time, or a bit before that, but through that period, the US Government was seriously warning everyone about the dangers of relying on technology from China. So basically, without embarrassment, this leak came out saying that we did it and now, be careful of the Chinese. Have the Americans actually stopped? We can only guess.
30. But it has now got to be taken as a given that this sort of thing will be done regularly and everyone will face this.
31. And it has become very easy and inexpensive to do. The Select Committee in 2018 heard that 1 million Instagram ‘Likes’ cost US$18; to get 100 Twitter followers, likes, or re-tweets it cost 34 US cents; and to organize a street protest in the US through online costs about US$200,000. These details are at Annex D. It also gives examples of HICs targeting democratic processes, if you look at Annex D and it is a cottage industry as well.
32. There are reports of an active Macedonian disinformation industry. Young Macedonians, they have Internet access, some basic training to create fake news websites. And in the final weeks of the 2016 US Presidential Elections, over 140 “fake news” US politics websites were traced to Macedonia, and these overtook mainstream news producers in their share of election stories shared on Facebook. The details are in Annex E.
33. A few days ago, the French Military School Strategic Research Institute published a Report on Influence Operations. Singapore was among the countries featured as case studies. The report noted that there were several factors which made Singapore vulnerable. Our size, our hyperconnectivity, our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Report said we were resilient through a counter-narrative of our Singaporean Identity, and by our swift reactions to hate speech. It concluded that we, along with Sweden, were one of the best prepared states in the fight against information manipulation and hybrid threats in general.
34. I am not so sanguine as the people who wrote this report.
35. Our racial and religious mix is easily exploitable by different countries.
36. And we see a steady build-up of different narratives, which is being very cleverly done. It is not obvious propaganda, but it conditions people to think in certain ways, particularly on foreign policy issues, often appealing to a larger racial identity, beyond the Singaporean identity.
37. In my view, this is one of the most serious threats we face and our population and likely most Members of Parliament, are not really aware of this.
38. Singapore of course has been subjected to attacks in recent times, both cyberattack as well as cyber manipulation.
39. Cyberattack in 2018, the hackers targeted SingHealth’s databases and stole the particulars of 1.5 million patients, including the Prime Minister’s data.
40. Cyber manipulation – I will give a couple of examples. During a period of tension with another country between 2016 and 2017, we experienced a coordinated HIC that attempted to undermine our foreign policy position. Online commentaries and videos were uploaded by social media accounts which had lain dormant for many years. Many of these were in Mandarin and targeted our Chinese-speaking population. These contents were also widely circulated via chat apps and aimed to influence sentiments among Singaporeans.
41. Cyber manipulation. I will give a couple of examples. During a period of tension with another country between 2016 and 2017, we experienced a coordinated HIC that attempted to undermine our foreign policy position. Online commentaries and videos were uploaded by social media accounts, which had lain dormant for many years. Many of these were in Mandarin and targeted our Chinese-speaking population. These contents were also widely circulated via chat apps and aimed to influence sentiments among Singaporeans.
42. In another case, during a period of bilateral tension with a country in 2018, we saw a large spike in online comments critical of Singapore, and many came from anonymous accounts. They sought to give an artificial impression of widespread objection to Singapore’s position.
43. I will say so far, these have been relatively low level, except the strategic move, the attempts to condition our people’s thinking, which is going on.
The Discussion on This Bill
44. Before I deal with the substantive points on this Bill, let me also deal with the issue of timing.
45. Some have said there have been no discussions, why is this Bill being put through so quickly?
46. Have there been no discussions?
47. We have been talking about this very seriously for more than 3 years. Extensively. The Select Committee heard extensive evidence in 2018 on this.
48. The evidence, the reports that I have been referring to so far in the various Annexes. Most of it comes from the evidence given in 2018 to the Parliamentary Select Committee.
49. I would like to refer Members to Annex F. It sets out the discussions that have taken place, and the summary of the testimonies given at the Select Committee. 20 different types of evidence, persons, organisations, including experts, gave evidence on the seriousness of the foreign threat.
50. I will touch on some of the evidence that was given at the Select Committee.
51. Disinformation expert Mr Ben Nimmo testified on the Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) various tactics, said to be controlled by Russia. Tactics to boost support for Mr Trump as he then was, and opposition to Mrs Clinton, during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, and to widen the divide in the US between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Police.
52. Dr Limonier, a French cybersecurity expert, spoke of an alleged Russian HIC that tried to sway the 2017 French Presidential Elections using a combination of state media, social media platforms and bots, including by attempting to spread leaked emails on the eve of the election to discredit the Macron campaign.
53. Experts also highlighted that Singapore has been targeted and is especially vulnerable when race and religion is used as an issue of protest potential.
54. Dr Shashi Jayakumar said that it would be a mistake to assume that foreign HICs were not already happening.
55. Dr Gulizar gave testimony behind closed doors, because of the sensitivity, and said that there were indicators of information warfare being practised against Singapore.
56. Dr Liew Kai Khiun highlighted the barrage of comments by seemingly Myanmar based user accounts on social media news portals of Singapore’s mainstream news networks. These were inflammatory, with Islamophobic tones, and incited backlash from Singaporean Muslims.
57. Dr Michael Raska highlighted that foreign states could engage in information operations that target our faultlines as a means of asymmetric warfare, given Singapore’s traditional military strength. This is an important point that I would ask Members to take note of.
58. I once heard our then-Defence Minister Dr Tony Tan describe our defence strategy in the following terms – that Singapore’s defence strategy is predicated on the superiority of our military in the region. Our conventional military strength has got to be clearly superior. And it is clearly superior. The Singapore Armed Forces is very well regarded, both in the region and globally, for its professionalism, its technological edge, and the interoperability of our systems. What Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, his vision of a “poisoned shrimp”. But what that means, as Dr Raska pointed out, is that the internet becomes a particularly attractive theatre for our adversaries who would seek to do us harm.
59. I will ask MPs to register this point in particular because our conventional military superiority ironically means we become an even bigger target online.
60. This topic was also quite extensively referenced in the Select Committee Report and discussed several times in Parliament. And if you look at Annex F (2), that sets out the discussions that have taken place in Parliament. There were questions, answers that emphasised our vulnerability; the fact that the Select Committee recommended that measures be taken; and we have said in Parliament that legislation will be considered, legislation will be necessary; I made speeches in COS 2019 as well as COS this year, I made it clear that legislation was needed.
61. You can also refer to my speech at a major international conference in September 2019, pages 26 and 27. I did, at that point, reference Mr PJ Thum and Ms Han, I will come back to this. And I made it clear that legislation is going to be needed.
62. That conference was held in Singapore on 25 September 2019, with 10 international and local speakers. Experts, Professor Allan Rock, a former Canadian Cabinet Minister, at that conference, noted that the tools of interference were well known – dissemination of false information; hacking, leaking. And he said Governments have got to take this seriously, take counter-measures, protect the electoral system, the candidates, political parties, and voters from information manipulation.
63. And this topic of foreign interference has been extensively covered in the media as well. That is set out in Annex F(3). And if you look at the headlines, some of them, repeatedly said “Stronger laws planned to combat foreign interference”, and “Singapore to have legislation to combat increased risk of foreign interference.”
64. And Annex F(4) shows, and I have just given a small sample, of extensive studies internationally – Brookings Institute, RAND Institute, and the Council for Foreign Relations – they have all commissioned and published studies. So, this topic has been extensively discussed and debated for over three years.
65. The other comments made – it is a very long Bill. MPs are used to lengthy Bills. You understand the structure, you understand what the key provisions are, you understand the Explanatory Statement, you take a view and then you go through the provisions again, look at the accompanying statements, infographics, and get a better sense.
66. As I have said, more than half of this Bill is based on the PDA, which MPs will or should be familiar with.
67. And the rest on HIC, it is set out fairly comprehensively.
68. I think the threat of foreign interference and its seriousness is not disputed by most people.
69. Most people also agree that something needs to be done.
What Needs to be Done
70. So, this is the context in which we are moving this Bill.
71. Before we consider the Bill, it is useful to first consider the current powers to deal with subversion.
72. Today, assume person X is suspected of being a foreign agent or acting for a foreign agency against Singapore’s interests.
73. Such a suspected foreign agent can be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. Investigations can be conducted. Section 20 of the CPC allows the Police to ask anyone in Singapore, individuals as well as companies, for information, not just under the ISA, under any legislation, if there are investigations. Ask anyone in Singapore, individuals as well as companies, for information, require them to produce any document or item for investigation.
74. So, under current laws, suppose there is an online campaign and there is basis to believe that this is foreign agency or entity inspired, and that it is prejudicial to our national security.
75. Then, investigations can be conducted under ISA. Information, including the writer’s identity, will have to be made available under the CPC. The writer and anyone else suspected of subversion can be detained. Any challenge will be heard by the ISA Tribunal, not by High Court. And it is not public, unless ISD decides to make it so.
76. This applies equally, whether the subversion is done online or in the physical world.
77. One of the pieces of misinformation that is being put out is that FICA would now allow the Government to get any information, and that this is a new power.
78. Section 20 of the CPC has been used all these years, and it is in broad terms to get any information, for investigations.
79. When we talk about powers – the powers to detain, to investigate – I will refer to them as “Substantive Powers”.
80. The powers to enforce, like requiring the taking down of material. I will refer to them as “Executory powers”.
81. There are also several Executory Powers now available, including:
82. Under the Broadcasting Act, which allows the Government to deal with objectionable content in the internet space. It allows for directions to be issued to broadcasting licensees for content to be taken down or blocked.
83. The Telecommunications Act has powers, gives powers, to allow for directions to be issued to telecommunications licensees, in the public interest, including the stopping, delaying, and censoring of messages.
84. The Public Order Act allows the Government to regulate physical assemblies and processions, and the Commissioner of Police may deny permits for such events that are “directed towards a political end” and involve foreign entities or individuals. So, the issues of what the directions might call the “protest potential” are regulated in the physical world. Logically, similar rules should apply in the online space.
85. The current Political Donations Act requires those that are directly involved in our political processes – be they political parties, election candidates and their agents – they have to declare their political donations. The Act prohibits the receipt of foreign funding and has a cap on anonymous donations.
Powers Under FICA
86. So, I have taken the House through the current legal landscape, what does FICA add to the current powers?
87. Take the example I gave earlier. Say, X is acting for a foreign agency, he has an agenda to subvert, influence our political process, subvert our sovereignty, and he conducts an online campaign.
88. Today, as I have explained, action will be taken under the ISA.
89. And bear in mind that foreign agencies will often use legitimate looking fronts. Annex G sets out the examples of such legitimate looking fronts.
90. If FICA is passed, then we can proceed under FICA, if we can show that online communications activity has been prepared or planned, by or on behalf of a foreign principal, and it is in the public interest to give one or more directions.
91. Example of directions that can be issued include, for a communicator to take down his content, for an Internet intermediary to take down the content and for an Internet intermediary to suspend or terminate the account.
92. The person can also be arrested, prosecuted, if an offence of clandestine foreign interference is made out, but on the FICA there’s no detention without trial.
93. Public interest is defined as including activities “Directed towards a Political End”. That is taken from the Public Order Act to prohibit foreigners, from organising or taking part in public assemblies directed towards such ends. And FICA applies this definition to the online space.
94. The Executory Powers under FICA are more calibrated. I referred earlier to the Broadcasting Act and Directions can be issued. Telecommunications Act – Directions can be issued to telecommunications licensees. And both Acts, there are limits to judicial review.
95. So, what in the HIC part of FICA goes further than the current laws? Mainly, in extraterritorial application, because it now explicitly includes global platforms which are often vectors for HICs. So that updates the analogue powers for the Internet age. For example, in the analogue world, you have the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and the Broadcasting Act. Provides powers to proscribe foreign newspapers/ broadcasting services. The digital-equivalent under FICA is the Proscribed Online Locations, App Removal. In the Analogue world, the Broadcasting Act provides the power to order a TV station to carry a message. The digital equivalent under FICA is a Must-Carry Direction, issued to communicators/social media services.
96. I would ask members to refer to Annex H which has two charts.
97. First, Chart 1, and this is quite important. If you look at Chart 1, the existing powers are in light green, and the updated powers under FICA are in darker green.
98. So, on the left, what’s headed “substantive powers”. Today, you see the existing powers for investigation, and of arrest and detention, in light green. It can be seen that FICA is an update to ensure that our laws can deal with online HICs, by allowing for disclosure of information by global platforms, and new offences which have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt in court, for perpetrating HICs in a clandestine way.
99. If you look at the top right-hand side, it shows how existing laws cover foreign interference via traditional media. The Broadcasting Act and the NPPA.
100. And the bottom-right, in light green boxes shows how online, there are powers to intervene under the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act.
101. What FICA does, in dark green boxes, is targeted and more calibrated directions.
102. If you look at Chart 2, the existing PDA is in green; FICA is in pink or red.
103. On the left, the green box shows what PDA provides today. All the measures in that box apply to gazetted political associations.
104. Under FICA, in the first instance, the only measure that applies to a designated PSP is in the first red box in the second column, which is declaration annually of donations. If there is a heightened threat of foreign interference, then the other red boxes can be applied by the competent authority.
105. To use another example – suppose we discover that a Singapore company has been secretly hired by a foreign intelligence agency to put out memes and videos on social media, and to spread the view that a particular ethnic group is persecuted. And the aim, let’s say, is to drive a wedge between ethnic groups in Singapore. What would we do today?
106. The company’s officers can be detained under the ISA. Other laws can also potentially be used.
107. This can be reviewed if the Detention is under the ISA, by the ISA Tribunal. There is no Judicial Review, except in relation to compliance with procedural requirements under the Act.
108. Where the content crosses the threshold of other laws like the Penal Code, of course there’s criminal investigations, can be initiated, CPC comes in, that would allow any information about the company’s activities or that of its staff to be obtained. And there is a legal obligation by anyone in Singapore to provide the information when the Police ask for it, including Internet companies.
109. And these actions can be pre-emptive.
110. On the FICA, Directions can be issued to tech companies to disable access to the content or restrict those accounts from view of end-users in Singapore, if the thresholds are met.
111. These can stem the HIC without having to block the entire platform.
112. Social media platforms can also be asked to provide information to support an investigation into a HIC. Today, if this data resides abroad, we cannot do so, under the CPC.
113. The Government would also have the option of charging the company and its officers under FICA, for clandestine foreign interference and prosecuting them in open court.
114. So that deals with the HIC part of FICA.
115. There has been some degree of misrepresentation on FICA, that this Bill seeks to curtail normal interactions with foreigners. That is not true.
116. Singapore depends for its success and vitality on being open. And a Government that seeks to close down that, will lead Singapore to ruin.
117. I actually want the House to see how our approach compares with the US, and Australia.
118. In the US, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, it covers people and organisations that are under the control of a foreign Government, or organisations or persons outside of the US.
119. Under US’s FARA, a “foreign principal” is defined very broadly, and any political activity that is designed to influence Government decision-making on behalf of a foreign principal, will require or trigger registration.
120. For instance, take something that we take as normal. An American citizen meeting a US Congressman and advocating for his company’s product. If the company was a foreign company, an MNC, that will trigger registration.
121. So, the American provision is quite broad. That scenario will not meet the thresholds for designation of PSPs under FICA.
122. On the HIC part, and how it applies. I will deal with it later.
123. Let’s also look at Australia, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. This covers Government-related entities and individuals who have arrangements with foreign principals or undertake certain activities on behalf of foreign principals.
124. So, under Australia’s FITS, any activity by a former Commonwealth politician would trigger the threshold for registration. So, you could be an ex-Minister or an ex-Member of Parliament of any political party, and if you did this, it will trigger.
125. Singapore, under FICA, on the PSP Part, only covers Defined and Designated PSPs. It is a much, much, much narrower group. Why have we taken this approach?
126. Because we’re not the US, we’re not Australia, we’re Singapore. We’re an international hub. Interactions with international counterparts, businesspeople, siting of MNCs in Singapore – all of these are vital for us.
127. In this Bill, action can be taken in respect of HIC if the following conditions are satisfied – Internet activity by or on behalf of a foreign principal, and public Interest in Singapore is affected. I mean I’m paraphrasing, but in essence. A PSP Designation is possible if the activities are directed towards a political end and it is in the public interest that countermeasures should be applied.
128. So, one of the key points for both areas is the phrase “public interest”.
129. The definition of “public interest” includes the requirement of “Proportionality” which the Minister or Authority will have to consider, in arriving at a decision. The “public interest” test imports a built-in requirement of proportionality for the Minister before deciding on a Part  direction.
130. And the definition of “public interest” refers to “necessary or expedient”. That’s Clause 7.
131. So, if a decision has to be made on the basis that it is necessary or expedient, you’ve got to look at the facts carefully, and the actions you want to take must be proportional.
132. So, take an example – two academics, one of them foreign, collaborate on a paper on LGBT issues. It will be difficult to say it is necessary or expedient to issue Directions under FICA. And really, try explaining that to a Supreme Court Judge who will chair the Tribunal that it is necessary or expedient.
133. So, the vast majority, of collaborations, linkages, will not meet the required conditions, and they will also not meet the requirement of proportionality.
134. And as an aside, and this has been raised by Member of Parliament Mr Jamus Lim, if a foreigner writes articles on controversial issues using his own name, or clearly stated to be a foreigner, people can assess the value, credibility, weight. And it is generally unlikely to be necessary or expedient to issue Directions. But it depends on the facts. If there is a basis to believe that he is doing so, for example, as part of a hostile campaign, or is acting for a foreign agency, with the intent of causing damage to Singapore, then directions could be given, subject to the test of proportionality. And if he disagrees, he can appeal to the Tribunal.
135. Likewise, and again I think this arises from Mr Lim’s question, or rather his proposed amendments. If the Economist or NYT publish articles, it would not be possible to invoke FICA.
136. However, if there is more to it, if a foreign newspaper is being used as part of a campaign targeting Singapore, that may be different. But again, it comes back to proportionality, the nature of the actions, the likely effect, the likely intent, several other factors.
137. Newspapers, it doesn’t mean automatically they are all kosher. They have often been used as a front for such activities, which is why I’ve put Annex G in – legitimate newspapers, news wires, have all been used as fronts. So, you cannot give a carte blanche exception, but it is most unlikely that many of these would be a front, unless we are very clear, other, evidence.
138. If some deception is involved in the campaign, if the foreigner hides his identity or masquerades as a local, we could, under FICA, give orders for them to be transparent. Just disclose who you are, so that people can judge for themselves.
139. And collaboration and partnership with a foreign person by itself is not the trigger. You have to go further and look at the facts.
140. As I’ve said, is there a hostile campaign, is there damage to Singapore, is there a foreign agency involved, what is the extent of possible damage? These are non-exclusive factors, nor must they all be present, or any one of them present. You’ve really got to look at the facts, assess, based on what you know, and assess the proportionality as well.
141. Now, I’ve referred to proportionality, I’ve said this is my view. But this is what the Government has been advised by AGC, and that’s one of the reasons for my view, and I’m capable of forming my own views, but we go by advice from AGC. And this is the intent behind the legislative approach which we are setting out clearly for reference, so that if this Bill becomes law, and if it needs to be interpreted, it will be interpreted in the light of what the Government has said, its legislative intent, and how the phrases are intended to cover these things.
142. It has been suggested by some that case law means that the test of proportionality cannot be applied. The advice I get from AGC is that it’s different for this legislation, because we are making clear the legislative intent for this specific Bill. And I have made similar points in respect of other legislation as well, it’s a part of the Second Reading speech.
143. Now, I will, in this context invite members to look at Annex I. Sir, with your permission, it will be emailed directly to them in softcopy. One suggestion was that open, non-clandestine collaborations within Singaporeans and any ordinary, private foreign citizen to improve any aspect of our laws and public policies constitutes foreign interference, notwithstanding the absence of any foreign state, manipulation or foreign funding.
144. Let me put it this way – on the one side, if there is manipulation with a foreign agency involved, I think everyone will agree it’s quite clear. On the other side, there is foreign collaboration, bona-fide work, everyone will agree that cannot be. And then there is the in between, there could be a group of foreigners, working with Singaporeans, giving, exchanging viewpoints, writing papers and so on. We have indicated that that would not be covered. How does that become necessary or expedient, how is the test of proportionality satisfied?
145. But supposing they come together, and their motive is to effect change; take a different example, there’s money involved; or let’s say there’s materiality, the entire focus is political change. Then again, MPs would say that’s a very different kettle of fish. Or for that matter, a range of public policy issues that are currently or which may in the future, become subject to political debates, where there is legitimate reasons for concerned Singaporeans to collaborate with international experts, researchers, NGOs. On the face of it, that would not be covered. But if it changes along the lines of what I’ve said earlier, then there is a case for looking at it carefully. So, one has got to look at the facts, test materiality.
146. Another point that has to be made is that presenting research at overseas conferences, writing for international journals, multi-author book projects, publishing in and reviewing for prestigious academic presses, participating in international, collaborative research projects, partaking of fellowships, visiting appointments, training programmes, participation in international funding opportunities – any of these may be subsidised or fully funded by foreign universities, foundations and states. None of that on the face of it, as it is described, will fit within FICA, for the reasons I’ve already explained. But if there is a step-up to try and turn the person into an agent of influence, or there is an orchestrated campaign, then again, it becomes different.
147. So, some of these doomsday scenarios that FICA is going to close off foreign collaborations, if that is correct, we as a Government must have suddenly gone mad. Because in a country like Singapore, which depends so much on the flow of ideas and international collaboration, is that even thinkable?
148. But the difficulty we face at MHA, and which many other countries face in dealing with this foreign interference issue, is that out of 10,000 interactions, one might be the sort that we are interested in, where there is an attempt to interfere.
149. And foreign agencies, and even non-agencies, NGOs, others, will try and present a legitimate front. So, the language has got to be broad enough to cover that – that what is apparently normal but is actually not normal.
150. And it is not only the classic foreign state agency, subversion, sort of thing. It could be foreign associations, NGOs, even individuals who want to change our laws, for example. So, you’ve got to look carefully at what they’re doing.
151. What are all the factors taken in overall, using the proportionality test? What sort of issue are they focusing on? What’s the possible impact? Is there funding involved?
152. But the central guiding principle: that Singaporeans should primarily decide on issues of importance to ourselves.
153. If you turn specifically to academics, questions have been raised about their collaborations with non-Singaporeans. They collaborate, create, partner, pursue their research interests professionally. No HIC. It doesn’t come under FICA.
154. So, the Bill will not affect the vast amount of academic work that is being done. We value the intellectual output, collaborations, exchange of ideas, the work our academics do.
155. And they need to link with the rest of the world for work, bona fide and professional work, not affected. It is important for Singapore.
156. But in some situations, there are academics who go into a different realm, around the world. And they are dealt with, like we did with Huang Jing.
157. There is another thread to some of the points made, underlying all of these explanations and illustrations that the Government’s position and explanations are good, but the powers can be abused, they can be used for a wrong purpose.
158. The worry is that the Government would abuse its power and shut down legitimate cooperation because it doesn’t like it.
159. There are two points here. One, the powers that are necessary to deal with the threat. Second, the possibility of abuse of these powers. So far, I have explained why the powers are necessary, and why these powers are no more extent, in fact less so, than powers that have already exist, but it’s more calibration for the Internet age. So, bearing that in mind, I will deal separately, later, with abuse of powers. But the fundamental principle is the intention, and we do not believe the legislation prevents bona-fide exchange of ideas.
160. Can the Government abuse the power? Any Government can abuse this power and any power. So, we’ll come to that, and what should be the checks and balances for that.
161. There have also been others, beyond these concerns, others who have been actively trying to put out misinformation about the Bill.
162. Chief amongst them, Mr Thum and Ms Kirsten Han. Thum and Han, as I said in 2019 in the conference, take money from George Soros. Some of you may recall Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) has a history of getting involved in the domestic politics of sovereign countries. In 2018, ACRA rejected Thum and Han’s attempt to register a company funded by OSF to organise “democracy classroom” sessions in Singapore.
163. They have set up an organisation called New Naratif which receives significant foreign funding. New Naratif organised a series of “Democracy Classrooms” focusing on Malaysia and supported by the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
164. Make no mistake about it, we will say no to that in Singapore. You can organise democracy classrooms, we have no issues. Anyone can organise, anyone can criticise the current state of democracy, but it cannot be funded by Soros, or the US Embassy, or any other Embassy.
165. The nature of activity, and who the funding is from, will have to be considered in this context.
166. I will say a bit more about Thum and Han before I go on to discuss their objections.
167. Thum wants our Independence Day to be 16th September, which is Malaysia Day. He regrets that Singapore separated from Malaysia. On several occasions, he has publicly said that Singapore should become part of Malaysia again and celebrate Independence on 16th September. Thum and Han, and some other activists, met with Dr Mahatir on 30 August 2018. They asked Dr Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore – I suppose Malaysian-style democracy.
168. Han described a social movement, and I quote, “the work that goes into potentially one day having 500,000 people in the streets”.
169. She has also said, “When the government says foreigners should not influence domestic affairs, or foreigners should not bring their country’s politics into Singapore, we should push back on that as well, because why not, because solidarity is important.”
170. Her view is that Malaysians can influence our politics. She says so openly. And I believe, I haven’t seen it, but I assume the petition that PSP is presenting in Parliament is the one that is inspired by Ms Han. So, I would like to know whether they agree with this statement that Singaporeans should push back and say foreigners should be able to influence domestic affairs in Singapore.
171. So, Members can see why the two of them are very concerned that FICA will focus on foreign funding, and have been mounting their own disinformation campaign.
172. Han has been posting on social media extensively, I’m told, over a hundred tweets, posts and so on, organised a Petition, sent around email templates for people to write to their MPs.
173. Thum has meanwhile written a commentary calling this Bill a “stealth coup” by me. Basically, that I am personally going to take over Singapore, and all my colleagues have to be very concerned. And I suppose a coup means I take over from the Prime Minister. A coup, in Singapore. Prime Minister needs to be very concerned too. It requires a turn of mind, completely at odds with reality, and living in fantasy, to think of a coup in Singapore.
174. Mr Thum forgets that if that is his fear, that I’m going to mount a coup, then I or any Minister of Home Affairs, has far more powers under other legislation, the ISA, the CLTPA, the MRHA, including the powers of detention.
175. FICA, in contrast, is a toy gun, it gives powers to give directions.
176. So, Members can see, there is no limit to the absurdities and fantasies that some will put out. And an Oxford education in itself does not immunise one from spouting such nonsense.
177. But I can see that they are concerned.
178. Han has said, in arguing against this Bill, that it is difficult to get money for these causes in Singapore, so foreign funding is necessary. You can see, Singaporeans are excited about it, interested, they will contribute. Or because they won’t contribute, therefore I need foreign funding.
179. Mr Terry Xu has joined Han in starting the petition, which some groups have signed up to. I’m not sure how many of these groups know what Thum and Han’s objectives are. We will look at the petition later that’s been put up in Parliament by PSP. I think Members can look at it in the context of who inspired them, and how today’s PSP is completely aligned, it appears, with what Thum and Han want to achieve.
180. Mr Speaker Sir, the points raised in the Petition, assuming it is the same petition that we see online, I have dealt with most of them, I am dealing with them. We can debate the points today and I will say that Parliament can fully consider and debate the points today. There’s no need to do it at another session.
181. Mr Terry Xu, as many of us know and as I’ve said in the September 2019 speech at the conference, uses Malaysian and other foreign writers to write incendiary articles on Singapore, without bylines and without identification. The articles include a call for Singaporean civil servants to march on the streets like their Hong Kong counterparts. So you read the articles, what would readers think – these are from local writers writing about Singapore in these terms. But the articles are often by foreign writers who are paid to write these stories. The more incendiary, the better.
182. Now, Mr Xu and others can continue to do this, even after FICA, but a Direction can be given to them to make it clear that the article is by a foreigner. We all want transparency, right? So, it would be useful for Singaporeans to know whether the writer of the article is local or foreign.
183. FICA will allow us to issue a transparency directive requiring Singaporeans to be told upfront who the article is written by, and what nationality the author has.
184. Now Sir, moving on to a slightly different topic. For HIC directions, appeals go to an independent Reviewing Tribunal, which has the power to overrule the Minister. The Tribunal is headed by a Supreme Court judge.
185. Appeals are made to this Tribunal and not the Court, so as to protect sensitive information that may be relied on to make a decision.
186. For example, we may determine that foreign interference based on a tip-off, sensitive information shared by a foreign counterpart security agency, and the consequences of a leak would be very serious.
187. Most Singaporeans understand the need for this legislation.
188. So, I will now deal with the proposed amendments put forward by various members or some members of the Workers’ Party (WP).
WP’s Proposed Amendments
189. The WP has stated that they believe in, and I quote, the “legitimate need to counter malign acts of foreign interference”.
190. They also realise the “Purposes” provision of the Bill is important (Clause 2) – and obviously so.
191. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I distribute a second folder which comprises Annexes [J – L] that I am going to refer to now. [Mr Speaker: Please do.]
192. It is to be welcomed that the WP has set out what they disagree with in the Bill.
193. They are looking at the amendments in agreement with most of the Bill. The details are in Annex J.
194. Their disagreement with the Bill can be itemized into five categories.
195. Two of the categories are somewhat process-related.
196. The first one by Mr Perera – he has put in suggested amendments to Clauses 47, 48, 78, 79, 81, 84, 85.
197. He wants the Government to maintain a public registry of all individuals and entities designated as PSPs; persons with declared involvement in foreign “policy” organisations. I would say the Bill does not use the term foreign “policy” organisation. I assume he was referring to a foreign “political” organisation instead. He also wants the Government to make publicly available the following information: (i) all reportable arrangements; (ii) all transparency directives, disclosures, reports and explanations for these decisions; (iii) all directives to PSPs to end their affiliation with a foreign principal, or to prohibit foreign volunteers.
198. Now, it is unclear to us why he only wants to make public these two stepped up countermeasures, and did not include the other stepped-up countermeasures, on prohibition of donations, and foreign memberships.
199. The Bill, in clause 116, states that we may make public any designation, the issuance of any stepped-up countermeasures on PSPs, and transparency directive issue.
200. The media had asked us about this previously. We said that while the Bill says “may”, our intention though was to make public their designations and stepped-up countermeasures on PSPs, as well as the directives to counter a HIC.
201. Our response was carried in mainstream media on the 25th of September.
202. Mr Perera wants to have this as an obligation, for the countermeasures that they have identified.
203. The Government can agree to this. We will make public all designations, stepped-up countermeasures on PSPs, transparency directives, and HIC directives, except the TADs, technical assistance requirements, because that will be in the course of investigations and we do not want to tip off hostile actors about the investigations that are going on.
204. There is one issue on the suggestion to make public the names of citizens involved in foreign political and legislative organisations. A substantial number of these citizens may not be PSPs. The reporting requirement under clause 79 applies to non-PSPs, ordinary citizens. If they are a member of say, the Russian Communist Party, we want to know, and they may not be PSPs in Singapore. There are also other Communist Parties. If they are a member of the Cuban Communist Party, we also want to know. Likewise, if they are members of the UK Conservative Party. So, it could become quite wide, and we have to be mindful when making disclosures relating to this group. So, we are studying that particular issue, whether we should make all these non-PSPs reports public. Our previous intention was no, we should let them have their privacy on this, reporting to the Government is enough. But, given that Mr Perera has raised it, we will re-look that particular point and if we agree with him, we could make that amendment at a future point in time, but not now.
205. Mr Perera also wants a list of all reportable arrangements.
206. I do not think that is necessary. The Bill sets out clearly the conditions where an arrangement is reportable. For example, when the PSP is obliged to act in accordance with the instructions of a foreign principal.
207. The second category where the WP wants to make some amendments. Mr Gerald Giam wants to add the following to categories of PSPs.
Members of Central Executive Councils, or equivalent, of any registered political party in Singapore;
Senior public servants holding office of Deputy Secretary or above, or equivalent; and
Board member or Chief Executive of a Statutory Board or Government company listed in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution
208. I will come back to this.
209. The third Category of Amendments, Mr Giam wants to amend the definition of what amounts to “Directed towards a Political End”.
210. The fourth Category of Amendments is Clause 17. Mr Jamus Lim wants to remove the phrase “likely to be” from “is or likely to be prejudicial”. And he proposes similar edits to Clause 18. And he also wants to amend Clause 17(2) to remove a caveat.
211. The fifth Category. The Bill provides for challenge to some Directions issued by the Minister to be dealt with by a Tribunal, headed by a Supreme Court Judge.
212. Ms He wants this to be dealt with by the High Court, rather than a Tribunal headed by a Supreme Court Judge.
213. I will now turn to the specific amendments proposed, and set out our views.
Clauses 47, 48, 78, 79, 81, 84, 85 [Mr Leon Perera]
214. On Mr Perera’s amendments on Clauses 47, 48, 78, 79, 81, 84 and 85, we can agree to several of them. I have set out my position.
Clause 14: Politically Significant Person [Proposed by MP Gerald Giam]
215. On Mr Giam’s amendment to Clause 14, on amending the definition of “PSP” to add – Now, once you’re designated as a PSP, there are baseline set of obligations. Declaration of foreign affiliations, declaration of migration benefits, anonymous donations cap of $5,000, declaration of donations of $10,000 or more from permissible donors, no foreign volunteers. And so on.
216. So, if you take a CEC member or equivalent, we can agree to this. We can add them today at the Committee stage.
217. I will seek to move a set of amendments to the Bill during the Committee stage of proceedings and for these to be debated alongside the other proposed amendments filed by the other MPs on the Bill.
218. But insufficient notice has been given for these amendments from my Ministry. Necessarily, because we are dealing with amendments in turn proposed by Mr Perera and Mr Giam.
219. I will be seeking your consent, Mr Speaker Sir, as well as the general assent of members present to waive notice. Copies of these proposed amendments will be distributed to this House so that Members can read them ahead.
220. Mr Speaker Sir, with your permission, may I ask the Clerks to distribute the proposed amendments? [Mr Speaker: Please do.]
221. On the CEC members, it is one of the reasons why we left it out. We did consider CEC members as well as branch secretaries to be included. But we left it out because on the side of the PAP to comply with this, is not going to be difficult because all except two of the CEC members are PSPs anyway. So, the obligations are more onerous for the other registered political parties because in some cases, none of the CEC members are PSPs. But, in the event as I said, we can agree to it if that’s what Mr Giam wants.
222. Mr Giam also wants DSs and PSs, or officers above the DS-level to be included as PSPs. Now, what’s the status of PSs and DSs, and what rules are they subject to? They are all subject to various tight rules and requirements which are tighter than the FICA requirements on PSPs. And they have to hold the valid security clearance throughout their appointment. They have to make annual declarations including on investments, ownership, financial embarrassment, declarations on a variety of matters, going well beyond what PSPs have to do. They have to declare all gifts and entertainment. They cannot work for other employers or engage in trade or business without explicit permission. And they can be directed to cease outside activities or divest investments if there is any perceived conflict. A list of their key obligations is set out in Annex K. The rules for PSPs are not as tight. PSPs cannot accept anonymous donations over $5000, which really means they can accept anonymous donations under $5000; and they can also accept above $5000 from identified persons.
223. Any Deputy Secretary or Permanent Secretary who accepts that will not remain in service for much after that. And they would be subject to severe disciplinary action if they contravene any of the rules.
224. Politicians and others who maybe PSPs play by different rules compared with senior civil servants. If we imposed on PSPs the rules that senior civil servants are under, I think it will be very difficult.
225. Ministers are also subject to strict rules except that political donations are possible.
226. Mr Giam and Mr Pritam Singh would be aware of these requirements, having both been public servants themselves in the past.
227. I also do not think it is appropriate to classify them as PSPs. These senior civil servants are non-political. So, we can’t agree to this proposal.
228. Mr Giam also wants to include Board Members, Chief Executives of Statutory Boards, Chief Executives of 5th Schedule Companies. CEs of Stat Boards, as public officers, are subject to the same rules as DSs and above, and the points I have already made apply equally to them.
229. As for Board Members, it would not be feasible to automatically define them as PSPs. Preferable to use powers of designation instead. Board Members, they will often have foreign members. You ask them to declare all donations received in home countries, migration benefits, all their foreign affiliations – doesn’t make sense. If we went out and asked, not these companies but any other listed company, ask them if it will be feasible to impose these requirements on their foreign Directors, they will tell you it is too onerous. They will have difficulties getting good people. And, if you take banks and you impose the obligations on the Scheduled companies, but you don’t impose these obligations on their competitors who might be on the same business, then you make it difficult for the Scheduled companies to get good people. It’s the same for 5th Schedule Companies. Leave it to the companies to choose people of integrity and our security agencies need to be alert, not just about them, but other Directors of major companies in Singapore.
230. So, these additional proposals are impractical from a market point of view.
Clause 8 [proposed by MP Gerald Giam]
231. Now, I move to Clause 8 proposed by Mr Giam. He wants to amend the definition of “Directed towards a political end in Singapore”.
232. The context is HIC directions can be issued if there is online communications activity where material is published in Singapore. It is undertaken by or on behalf of a foreign principal, and it is in the public interest to issue a direction such as to prevent foreign interference directed towards a political end. And for a PSP to be designated, that person or entity’s activities must be directed wholly or in part towards a political end; and the Competent Authority must additionally assess that it is in the public interest for countermeasures to be applied.
233. So, changing this definition will affect how we can act against foreign interference.
234. The meaning of “Directed toward a political end” in the Bill has seven parts.
235. Mr Speaker, with your permission, may I display a slide with the definition on screen please [Slide 1]. [Mr Speaker: Yes please.]
236. The first five are: (i) to promote the interests of a political party, or a politically significant entity, in Singapore; (ii) to seek to influence the outcome of any election or referendum; (iii) to seek to influence Singapore Governmental decisions including by trying to influence the public; (iv) to seek to influence any aspect of proceedings of key public institutions, including Parliament, Presidential Council for Minority Rights, and so on; (v) to seek to bring about changes of the law or otherwise influence the legislative process.
237. Mr Giam accepts all of this as legitimate, as being Directed Towards a Political End. Legitimate meaning legitimate toward for defining what is directed towards a political end. And that these are necessary.
238. But he wants to remove the last two paras. Mr Speaker, with your permission, may I ask for [Slide 2] that highlights these changes to be put up? Mr Giam wants to remove two subclauses. The first of which reads to seek to influence public opinion on a matter which, in Singapore, is a matter of public controversy; and two, to seek to influence any aspect, or to promote or oppose political views, or public conduct relating to activities that have become the subject of a political debate in Singapore.
239. Now, this is a little difficult to understand. Let me explain.
240. Members will recall, I have said a number of times, that there are three conditions for a HIC direction and two for a PSP designation.
241. For a HIC direction [to be issued], to refresh Members’ memory, there has to be online activity where material is published in Singapore, it has to be done on behalf of a foreign principal, and public interest in Singapore likely to be affected.
242. For a PSP designation, the person or entity’s activities must be directed wholly or in part towards a political end; and the Competent Authority must additionally assess that it is in the public interest for countermeasures to be applied.
243. With Mr Giam’s proposal, if an issue is only within (f) or (g) then no counter-HIC directions can be issued, and no PSP designation is possible.
244. To put it in the form of an example, in other words, his position is that we should not stop foreigners from interfering to shape public opinion on matters of public controversy; or to influence public views on a political debate. This is so regardless of whether or not deception is involved.
245. There are numerous scenarios that could fall under limbs (f) and (g), that may not be covered by the other limbs. For example, promoting some types of solidarity between members of one race or nationality, with the aim that this can eventually help them have negative feelings towards other races or promoting some types of religious piety, with the aim that eventually they may take different views on matters of political debate in Singapore.
246. If we believe this is being done – for example, at the direction of a foreign intelligence agency with the ultimate purpose of creating divisions within Singapore – shouldn’t we be able to act?
247. If an intel agency in another country regularly pays someone in Singapore to write about these matters, or support the policies of the WP or the PAP, and gradually deepen divisions, enhance the protest potential as General Gerasimov might have said, that wouldn’t be covered.
248. Frankly Sir, that goes against common sense. When we had the debates on CECA. Were we not having a political discussion?
249. Under Mr Giam’s proposal, any foreigner trying to influence such a debate in Parliament would be covered by FICA. But any foreigner trying to influence a wider public on the same topics will not be covered when their discussion takes place outside, unless it can be shown that that was done in order to influence Government policy.
250. But Members would have seen from the examples I have put in the Annexes on foreign influence. Influencing public opinion is a key aspect of foreign manipulation. Reams and reams of examples.
251. Look at the Modus referred to in Paragraphs 200 to 206 of the Select Committee Report. I don’t have it here, but Members can check it out, where the Select Committee Report says Russians built up internet presence in the US to influence.
252. This has been done regularly in other countries.
253. As an example, The Guardian reported that YouTubers, bloggers and influencers in France and Germany were offered money by a PR agency with apparent connections to another state to spread falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines. For example, “death rate among the vaccinated with Pfizer is almost 3x higher than the vaccinated by AstraZeneca”.
254. They were asked to, I quote, “act like you have the passion and interest in this topic” and avoid using the word “sponsored”. They were instructed that “the material should be presented as your own independent view”.
255. So, I would say Sir, it is not logical if you look at this, that we agree that (a) foreigners shouldn’t influence, (c) – is wrong, we shouldn’t allow foreigners to influence or seek to influence Singapore Government decisions, (e) – is wrong and should not be allowed, but foreign inspired subversion on (f) and (g) are ok? But if you look at (a), to promote the interests of a political party, and if you look at (g) to influence or seek to influence any aspect or to promote or post political views or public conduct relating to activities that have become the subject of a political debate in Singapore. You can do (a) in a different way under (g). That’s what I meant earlier. You could argue I was doing (g) and not (a). So, foreign inspired subversion on (f) and (g) are not ok.
256. This is exactly what the Gerasimov Doctrine seeks to exploit. It seeks to identify issues of “protest potential”, use info operations to polarise society, incite public disorder along these issues, and keep the target country in a constant state of turmoil.
257. Take another example – the Explanatory Statement to the Bill. Say there’s a humanitarian crisis in Country Z, it becomes a hot topic in Singapore. Country Z then sets up Company Y in Singapore, in a bid to sway opinion. Company Y pretends to be a private local trading enterprise, but it is really just a front for Country Z to influence Singaporeans. To do this, Company Y sets up multiple personas online, and it puts out many commentaries online, pretending to be “a freelance journalist” or “experts” in foreign politics, trying to manipulate Singaporeans to take a particular view of the matter. This is taken from real world happenings.
258. With the deletions that Mr Giam has proposed, such conduct may fall outside of FICA, unless it can be referred back to one of the earlier limbs.
259. I think it is not acceptable for us to allow such foreign interference and allow such manipulation of Singaporeans. Eventually it will weaken our society.
260. The shareholders of the sham company may even get paid for their actions, and there would be no offence, and no Part 3 Directions can be issued, however pervasive the online campaign.
261. You will have situations, where (f) and (g) will overlap with the other limbs. Limb (c) – influencing governmental decisions is defined (in s 9) to include influencing the public on a process in respect of the Government decision. If this is a matter of public controversy, it will overlap with (f). As I said earlier, insofar as (g) covers the influence of political views, this may overlap with matters under (a), which promote the interests of a political party, or (e) which aim to bring about changes in the law.
262. In this context, let us also look at the exemptions proposed by Member Jamus Lim.
263. He proposes to exempt “an activity undertaken by Singaporeans to exercise their right to discuss politics by expressing their own views on political matters, unless they are agents of a foreign principal”.
264. Second, he proposes to exempt “an activity undertaken by foreign individuals or foreign publications reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way, even if their comments may be critical of Singapore or the Government”.
265. Both proposals are modelled on my ministry’s press release of 13 September 2021, which was issued after the First Reading of the Bill, where we set out the powers under the Bill, and explained that it will not apply to these two situations, in the context of Clause 120.
266. It is unnecessary to write this in. It is not covered by the Act. Period.
267. I have said this in Parliament. The MHA Statement has also stated it. The Explanatory Statement to the Bill (Clause 120, p 240 and 241) explains this.
268. You can’t regularly be writing into legislation both what is covered and what else is not covered, because the above two situations are not the only ones not covered. Many other issues not covered. We clarified those in the press statement because people may have had these questions in mind.
Clause 17: Clandestine Publishing [Proposed by MP Jamus Lim]
269. Let me move to Clause 17 which is clandestine publishing. This is by MP Mr Jamus Lim. The Prime Minister is back. He missed the part about the coup and taking over his powers. I’m sure he will read them. Clause 17 is now sought to be amended.
270. The current wording is that the offence is committed if (i) A publishes in Singapore; (ii) A does this on behalf of a foreign principal; and (iii) A has reason to believe that what is published is likely to be prejudicial to Singapore’s interests, in one of various ways. And he does this covertly and deceptively.
271. Mr Lim wants to remove the phrase “is likely to be”. Mr Speaker Sir, with your permission, may I ask the Clerk to display the slide [Slide 3] which contains this amendment.
272. This proposed amendment will narrow the mental state for offences. If this edit goes through, then the Prosecution must then prove that a person knew that it would likely to be prejudicial.
273. Taking one step back, I would say we are using a slide rule here to try and measure, assess people who might are going to come with bazookas.
274. This will not work in the real world.
275. And even more so when it comes to clandestine foreign interference. Any decent intelligence service would know how to cover its tracks, conceal its linkages, and disavow knowledge.
276. So under these proposed amendments, someone could take money from a neighbouring country, attack us, publish allegations against the Police or SAF or other institutions, cause unhappiness and unrest among our local ethnic communities. This can be done covertly. Not disclose that he is taking money.
277. Yet if the proposals are accepted, the person cannot be charged in Court because the Prosecution has to show the person knew or had reason to believe that his actions would be prejudicial. The person could claim, for example, that he didn’t realise his post would be picked up by others and shared around. He didn’t know it would be prejudicial. He had no reason to believe so. This is so, even if we can prove that he took money from a foreign agency to put up the posts with the purpose of damaging Singapore.
278. It’s really like taking knives to a gunfight.
279. Common sense is, if you had reason to believe that your actions are likely to prejudice Singapore’s interests and you are acting for a foreign agency, you are acting covertly, secretly, it should be an offence.
280. I make broadly the same points for the proposed amendments to Clauses 18, 40 and 75.
281. Related to this, Mr Lim wishes to amend clause 17(2), to remove a caveat that Y does not need to have in mind a particular foreign country or foreign principal in order to be considered to have committed an offence.
282. This similarly narrows the mental state for the offence, and means the prosecutor must prove that the person is acting for a specific foreign principal. It is impractical for the reasons which I’ve already given. As a matter of principle, knowledge that there is a foreign principal and acting on his behalf should suffice, even if the person doesn’t know, which foreign principal. It doesn’t matter that you are acting for country X, Y or Z, as long as you know you are acting for some country.
Clause 20 [Proposed by MP Jamus Lim]
283. I may move to Clause 20, also the amendment proposed by Mr Lim.
284. The current wording is that the Minister may authorise directions where, in the opinion of the Minister, those conditions for HIC are satisfied.
285. The MP wants to remove the phrase “or is suspected of being or having been undertaken”
286. In practice, suspicion of links to a foreign principal would likely arise from a lead, an intelligence tip off, other kinds of tip offs.
287. If there is such a suspicion, security agencies would probe further, gather data, try to corroborate the information, ascertain if the lead is reliable. They would require triangulation from a number of different source.
288. Recall the earlier example of a state that apparently worked through a PR agency to get social media influencers to discredit vaccines. People eventually got suspicious due to a combination of indicators. Suspicious instructions from the company to mask that they were being paid to push their messages; company claimed to be based at an address in London, but turned out to be not registered there; company management from Moscow, online presence that disappeared once people started raising suspicions. None of these indicators, on their own, prove a conclusive link to a foreign principal. But collectively, they paint a suspicious picture.
289. So, if a foreign publication strongly attacks a government policy and a local person is actively helping them and pushes out that content, while accepting donations from them and taking effort to conceal the funding. Consistently over time, circumstances look suspicious, but nothing can be done if we cannot prove that the person was actually acting on behalf of a foreign principal.
290. I think we must be able to act on reasonable suspicion which is a threshold well-established in law.
291. Under FICA, the Government would be able to take some measures. Issue directions to take down the harmful content, or a must-carry direction to inform the public that a HIC is going on. These are executory in nature. The thresholds do not relate to an offence.
292. The person receiving the direction, if aggrieved, can appeal to the Tribunal.
Clause 21 [Proposed by MP Jamus Lim]
293. Clause 21, Mr Lim wants to add in the phrase rely on “actionable intelligence”. Let’s say you receive a tip off from another agency. We now call this agency to come and prove the actionable intelligence? Or we get documents and produce them? There is a process, you can’t just produce documents. Added on to that, Mr Lim and his colleagues want us to be in Court. How do you even prove these documents? How do you put any foreign intelligence agents on the stand? What is actionable intelligence?
294. In the real life, tip-offs come from intelligence agencies on certain activities. Associations, sometimes can be definitive, a “smoking gun”. But the vast majority of cases is less definite. Links to a foreign state could be through ownership, funding, other associations. It requires piecing together of different data points. I can tell Mr Lim from experience, if ever we said that we are going to refer what they said to us publicly, immediately they will disavow all knowledge, and thereafter they will refuse to have contact with us. That’s the real world. We need to be practical, not theoretical in this, with an understanding of how intelligence operations work.
295. There is another problem which lawyers will understand. What is the legal standard for “actionable intelligence”? It will replace “suspects or has reason to believe”, which is a concept which lawyers know and is well defined, at least as case law, replace that with “actionable intelligence”.
296. Essentially, the Tribunal will have the right to consider the information available, which the Government makes available, and decide whether the conclusion that the Government has come to was justified.
Clause 104 [Proposed by He Ting Ru]
297. Let me now move to the final set of amendments. Clause 104, amendments proposed by Ms He. She wants to replace the Tribunal with proceedings in the High Court.
298. This is in respect of appeals against our counter-HIC directions. Any Part 3 Direction or Declaration as a Proscribed Online Location.
299. The question is, should the appeals relating to HIC Directions go to Court and should there be public hearings?
300. In a Court process, the Government will be required to set out its case in public, months in advance of the trial. Documents have to be exchanged. Witnesses must be available to give evidence. There will be cross examination and then the Judge decides.
301. Going back to my earlier example, assume we get an intel tip off. Foreign agency tipping us about someone, which has happened even quite recently, which then led to us exercising powers under the Internal Security Act. There are no documents.
302. Will we be able to get the foreign intel contact to come to Court? As I said, they will just not hear us. We won’t even get a response and that will be the end of the cooperation.
303. If we think the tip-off has some merit, we do our own investigations and then issue Directions.
304. If the person is not happy, he appeals to the Tribunal. Tribunal members have the same immunity and protection as High Court Judges. They consider any appeal brought under s92.
305. Let me give you another example. Some countries, I’m not saying we do, but some countries have human assets in other countries. Let’s say the information is obtained through such a human asset. You want to reveal that in Court? Depending on the country that human asset is in, he may not live for long after that. And even if he lives, he won’t be free.
306. One could ask: Can you have the case in-camera, in Court? That would not solve the problem. You have to file the evidence in Court. A lot of parties get to see the file. Some of this information, frequently, is often known only to the two or three persons who need to know, even within the security agency. The Minister doesn’t see it or get to know about it unless it is necessary to brief the Minister.
307. Let me give you a simple illustration of the real world, by referring to a case that is before the Courts now, which is not anywhere in the category of cases we are now talking about in terms of sensitivity.
308. There is a case pending, an application by 17 prisoners awaiting capital punishment. They are making an application against the Attorney-General. They seek various reliefs against the Attorney-General. Various allegations that they make, which the AGC considers to be completely scurrilous and without basis, being made to simply throw mud and stir. That is the AGC’s view.
309. They are represented by a local lawyer. The hearing is in Chambers. The lawyers will know the hearing is in Chambers, it hasn’t been published yet, details of the affidavit and everything, cannot be published. But details of the plaintiffs’ affidavit appeared on a Malaysian news portal within a month of the application being filed. I was going to say they have a very strong racial undertones, in fact, they are about race. Someone wanted to make these assertions in Court, and then make sure they were published outside, which AGC considers absolutely scandalous.
310. The information should not have been made public. It’s a possible breach of rules. The lawyer claims that his “instructing solicitor” is from Malaysia, for one of the plaintiffs. So, now if you investigate and even if you take action for breach of the rules, the information is public. In this case, the information is not security-sensitive.
311. But let’s say you have highly secret intel information. First of all, does it make sense to hand it over to the very person who is a suspect? Or to his lawyers? How do you have a Court process?
312. The theory has to fit the practice. That is why we thought long and hard and then said, let’s have a Tribunal, headed by a Supreme Court Judge who can overrule the Minister.
313. The Courts still have a role to play, and that’s in the Explanatory Statement (p236). They will ensure procedural compliance, proper exercise of jurisdiction. But they will not review the merits, other aspects of executory decisions taken under the Bill.
314. As the House considers this, we must also look at this in the context of some other pieces of legislation we have in Singapore, and what our approach to governance is.
315. Mr Speaker Sir, with your permission, may I display a slide [Slide 4] which compares different legislation.
316. We have legislation that provides for Tribunals and limits the courts’ power of judicial review to achieve a variety of different objectives. And so far, Singapore has been successful in this balancing exercise. Let me explain.
317. The starting point is always Rule of Law. It is fundamental, both for the well-functioning of society and to build a modern, economically vibrant society.
318. At the same time, we recognise the normal judicial process is not best suited for specific matters. That is an exercise that requires careful consideration.
319. Let me give a few examples. This is in Annex L.
320. If you look at the Maintenance for Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), the Minister can issue Restraining Orders. They are considered by the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, which in turn makes its recommendations to the President to confirm, vary or cancel the order.
321. All orders and decisions of the President and the Minister, and the recommendations of the Council, are final and not subjected to judicial review (s 18).
322. During the Second Reading of the MRHA, I explained that where religious issues are concerned, the trial process may not be the best way to deal with it. It can deepen the fault lines, encourage martyrdom, and inflame tensions even more.
323. The Restraining Orders can impose a significant restraint on normal freedoms. The Restraining Order can restrain the person from addressing orally or in writing, any congregation, require the person to stop communication activity or stop contributing to any religious publication, or restrain the person from holding office in an editorial board or committee of a religious publication.
324. The orders can be made against religious groups to prohibit a group from receiving donations from specific or all foreign donors, require the entire governing body of the group to be Singapore Citizens, or require the group to suspend or remove specific foreigners from office.
325. You can see the underlying philosophy there again. Part of it is foreign influence. In some ways, these orders are more serious than what can be made under FICA.
326. The religious groups were initially concerned. We talked to them, we explained, we showed how the powers would have been exercised under the previous MRHA. They understood and they accepted.
Land Acquisition Act
327. Second, we looked at the Land Acquisition Act. This is your house, you are living there. You could have been living there all your life. The Government can acquire under the Land Acquisition Act. Any appeal from the Collector’s Awards has to be heard by an Appeals Board.
328. Good reason. We learnt from the experience of other countries. Small country, we decided that if we want to reshape and develop Singapore, the Government must have the power to acquire land quickly, develop it, and not be tied up with the normal litigation process.
329. In fact, the inspiration for the Constitution, one of the places we looked to was India. When it was taken, then-Prime Minister decided the constitutional protection for land, which was in the Indian Constitution, should be removed from our Constitution.
330. So, a person’s property can be acquired, and it is the Tribunal that decides on the value.
331. The approach to land acquisition, the policy on land acquisition, underpins our entire public housing, HDB policy. It underpins our entire industrial land policy, and many other aspects is based on this unorthodox approach.
332. If you look at the Immigration Act, Section 39A. No Judicial Review for any decision made by the Minister or Controller, under the Immigration Act, save in relation to procedural compliance.
Employment of Foreign Manpower Act
333. If you look at the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, financial penalties can be imposed, other orders can be made. Appeal is to an Appeal Board, chaired by a person qualified to be a Judge of the Supreme Court, may not even be a Judge, person qualified to be a Judge. The Appeal Board determines its own procedures, and its decision is final.
334. Decisions of the Controller relating to the issuance or cancellation of work passes, or variation of its conditions, these are not subject to judicial review, save in relation to procedural compliance.
The Internal Security Act (ISA)
335. The ISA has been instrumental in ensuring our safety and security. It provides for detention without trial on Executive Order. Singaporeans understand and accept the ISA. It allows us to pick up would-be terrorists pre-emptively.
336. In 2017, we picked up a 22-year-old kindergarten teacher. Young, and our first female detainee. Do we wait until she does something, perhaps to the kindergarten children? She went through rehabilitation and is now released. In any other country, she could not have been picked up. There are countries where she could have been picked up, but I am referring to the countries that we normally refer to. If she is not picked up, and if she goes overseas to one of the warzones, she might well not be alive today. But now, she has the prospect of carrying on with her life, achieve her full potential.
337. In the last couple of years, amongst those picked up were two teenagers. One wanted to carry out a knife attack in a mosque, the other wanted to carry out a knife attack in a synagogue. Do we wait until they actually attack? What would be the harm to our social fabric?
338. The ISA has helped us to avoid the bad incidents and hypocrisies we see elsewhere.
339. Recall the recent incident in New Zealand on 3 Sep 2021, where an extremist stabbed shoppers at a supermarket. You wake up in the morning and you go to the supermarket, suddenly someone comes in and stabs you. The attacker was known to the security agencies. He was under surveillance since 2016 because of his support for the Islamic State ideology. But under New Zealand’s laws, he could not be picked up. There have been other similar cases in the UK and in France. Annex M sets out the details.
340. The global security think tank GLOBSEC examined 22 terror incidents in France since 2012 and noted that nearly 80% of the people behind those attacks had been on a terror watchlist and 97% had been on the radar of authorities. With the ISA, 97% of those incidents could have been avoided and many lives saved.
341. This included Said and Cherif Kouachi, career criminals who killed 12 people in January 2015 in the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris.
342. Turning to the US. President Obama took office in 2008. He campaigned on the promise to close down Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo). He did not do so in the eight years of his Presidency. One reason, closing Gitmo could mean that several of these hardcore detainees would be moved to the US. Many Americans were opposed to that idea. To date – what we could check, we may be wrong – is that one Gitmo prisoner has been transferred to the US for prosecution in the federal courts. We may be wrong about the exact number, but I think it is a very low number.
343. What is the theory? The theory, the Americans have been preaching this to us for years on the ISA – there must be due process, you must not have detention without trial, State Department will tell us and publish lists. But when it comes to the US, there is due process in the US, they have all these hardened criminals, terrorists picked up from around the world. They put them in Gitmo, which is in Cuba, and then they say since this is outside of the US, the US due process laws don’t apply, and therefore we can detain them without trial, and they don’t have the benefit of US due process.
344. Members know of the atrocities that were committed on the prisoners. Which is why I said, we look at the world as it is, and we avoid hypocrisy. We deal with it in a practical way. Doctors look at the ISD detainees, Justices of Peace go there, see them. We give them religious rehabilitation, we don’t throw away the keys. After a while, many of them are released when they are rehabilitated. We don’t allow ideology to stand in the way of doing right for society when that ideology doesn’t make sense. The ideology must be to do what is right for Singaporeans.
345. If you go to the CLTPA, it also provides for detention without trial. I am well aware that the Workers’ Party has a different view, both on the ISA and the CLTPA, though I don’t know what the substance of the provisions they would replace the ISA with would be. Therefore, it may be difficult for them to philosophically agree with this. But I am setting out the approach the Government has taken.
346. The CLTPA provides for detention without trial. It is a practical approach by then-Prime Minister, Mr Lee. Evidence will often not be available. People too frightened to give evidence. In fact, we inherited this from the British and have changed it, some. People will be too frightened to give evidence. In the longer term, more harm to society by leaving gangsters out in society. So, better to give to the Executive these powers to deal with some types of pernicious criminals. It has helped to keep our society safe.
347. If we had stuck to the approach of looking at everything on the basis only of the rights of the person accused in the way that say the US or UK looks at it, and without balancing the rights of the society, we will not have the safe and crime-free society we have today.
348. The rights of the accused, or detainees, both under the ISA and CLTPA are protected. They are dealt with by Tribunals.
349. The question for this House is how do we view the risks of foreign interference? How do we place the risks, in the context of the other legislation that I have referred to? Would it be possible to deal with these issues of foreign interference through a normal Court process? Often, we don’t even name the countries involved. Can you imagine naming one of our neighbours in Court? Or a much larger country?
350. When we asked Huang Jing to leave, we didn’t say who he was acting for. Why? The foreign policy and national security implications are too serious. The US can name any country it wishes. But we are a price-taker in this business of international relations.
351. Also, how do you have a Court process without leaks? If you look at what can be done through Executive Order, under FICA – directives can be issued for greater transparency, the Government might ask some to disassociate themselves from foreigners if there is an increased threat of foreign interference.
352. Compare that against the Land Acquisition Act, against the Executive Orders that can be made under the other legislation that I have referred to.
353. And also, it is not as if it is the High Court process or nothing. There is a Tribunal, fully empowered, headed by a Supreme Court Judge, and they can consider any appeal brought under s 92.
354. Quite a separate point that has arisen here, generally, in legislation, the usual rules for judicial review, limit review of the Courts to reasonableness, legality and propriety. This has been so in POFMA as well as in other legislation.
355. Members can see that for various pieces of legislation have conferred the Government with generally worded discretion.
356. Philosophically, the Government has seen that as part of good governance, to ensure that our laws are effective so that Government can act when it needs to.
357. You need checks and balances. But the checks must be suited to the task and balanced against the risks.
358. The risks – what are the risks? There are risks with giving any Government any power. Whether or not it is appealable to a Court. There are always risks. It’s a degree of risks. There are also risks in not giving the power. The real issue is what powers should you give? What are the risks? And what are the risks in not giving the powers?
359. The risk here, which underlies some of the concerns which have been raised and some of the illustrations. The Government says these illustrations don’t come under FICA and then say what if the Government abuses its power? I referred to it briefly earlier. What if the Government interferes with perfectly normal collaborations with a foreigner? It will be an abuse of power. But what if the Government abuses its power?
360. You have to weigh the risks of a rogue Government doing that versus rogue foreign interference. The latter is a far greater risk.
361. The risk of a rogue Government abusing its power. First of all, what is the power compared with the powers in other legislations? Second, it can be looked at by a Tribunal headed by a Supreme Court Judge. All the decisions, published. People can see and assess themselves. And ultimately, people have the final say in a highly educated, literate population in Singapore. The final say of both public opinion and public opinion expressed through elections. People in Singapore won’t stand for a rogue Government.
362. The risk of not giving the power or requiring a Court process will, in the context of the risks I’ve outlined, will severely compromise the Government’s ability to deal with the real risk of foreign interference, which has actually happened.
363. I, like some of those who have made comments, and I’m sure everyone else here, wish that there is a world where the Government has the power to act and at the same time, there is a complete check against abuse. If we can find that formula, we would gladly take that. Because that is ideal.
364. But there is no such formula. Then we have to look. First of all, admit that there are trade-offs, whichever route you take. You go to Court, there are trade-offs. If you go to the Tribunal, there are trade-offs. I agree with a rogue Government, there is a risk of abuse, as I said, not just for this power, but several other powers. Not just executive powers, but also powers which can be looked at or appealed to the Courts. Just as there is a risk of an order made under MRHA against preachers on religious group that we don’t agree with, or detentions under the CLTPA, or land acquisition. In many countries, the populations don’t support these kinds of land acquisition powers because it only leads to some very wealthy Ministers and no or not much public benefit. But in Singapore, the population trusted the Government and Singapore has developed in a way which could not even have been dreamt about in 1965.
365. Along the way, we have had to make these choices in a number of areas, as I showed the Members. And over time, people have seen how our approach proved to be good for the majority of people.
366. Over the same period, Singapore’s reputation for Rule of Law, its judicial system, legal system, institutions, both in and outside of the legal field, were all enhanced, and they were built up.
367. I say to this House, this law gives the Government a set of tools that can help. It is not a complete defence against foreign interference, but they can help.
368. The Bill represents the best balance, that we can find between dealing with the risks and providing checks against abuse.
369. MP He also proposes to remove the immunity provision in Clause 119.
370. The reason for this suggestion is not clear. We recently amended the Police Force Act to provide that no liability shall lie personally against any enforcement officer who acts in good faith and with reasonable care, in the execution of the Act or any other written law. That’s Clause 119. This provision simply extends the same protection to a competent authority or an authorised officer, who assists a Police officer in the execution of powers under the Act.
371. Sir, in conclusion, I have articulated the need for the Bill, and addressed the misconceptions that have surfaced in the past few days.
372. The Bill is a calibrated piece of legislation that enables us to act surgically against threats that have come and continue to loom over us.
373. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.