Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of the Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill – Opening Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information & Second Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 02 April 2024


1. Mr Speaker, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. 

2. This Bill introduces three sets of amendments.

(a) The first strengthens our levers against scammers;

(b) The second enhances the efficacy of Home Team operations; and

(c) The third facilitates and safeguards Yellow Ribbon Singapore’s (YRSG) operations. 

3. I will elaborate on each in turn.


Strengthen Our Levers Against Scams

4. Sir, scams remain a problem around the world. Singaporeans are not spared. 

(a) There were over 46,000 cases in 2023, a nearly 50% increase from 2022. 

(b) Scam losses fell slightly but are still high. 

5. At the Global Fraud Summit which I attended last month, other countries shared that they were facing similar challenges. Scams have also skyrocketed in their jurisdictions.  

6. We have implemented multiple measures to combat scams.

(a) For example, the Infocom Media Development Authority (IMDA) has been working with telecommunication companies to block all incoming calls from overseas that spoof local numbers. As a result, the volume of such calls attempted has dropped. In 2022, there were approximately 970 million of such attempts. In 2023, there were 18 million attempts, a far smaller number but all were blocked.  

(b) In 2023, IMDA introduced the SMS Sender ID Registry, which requires organisations to register the alphanumeric Sender IDs which they want to use in SMS communications with their customers. SMSes using non-registered Sender IDs will be marked as “Likely-SCAM”. In the three months after its implementation, scams due to SMSes fell by 70%.

(c) As a result, phishing, which was the main type of scam perpetrated through SMSes, has claimed fewer victims. Amounts lost to phishing scams have also fallen.

7. With these measures in place, scammers have quickly changed their tactics and pivoted to using local SIM cards to reach prospective victims. 

8. People who receive scam calls and SMSes from locally-registered numbers may think they are legitimate, and fall prey. 

(a) In 2023, over 23,000 local mobile lines were involved in scams and other cybercrimes. This is four times the number in 2021. 

(b) In 2023, about $400 million were lost from scam and cybercrime cases involving local mobile lines. This is three times the amount lost in 2021. 

9. Local numbers have also been used by scammers to set up WhatsApp and Telegram accounts to target victims, or receive their monies via PayNow. This comes on top of their being used for other crimes, such as unlicensed moneylending.

10. To enforce against scammers who abuse local SIM cards, the Police have worked with foreign counterparts as these scammers are mainly based overseas.

(a) In February 2023, SPF worked with the Royal Malaysia Police to conduct simultaneous raids at three apartment complexes in Johor. They arrested 12 Malaysians for their involvement in using six prepaid Singapore SIM cards to perpetrate fake friend calls and these were scams targeting Singaporeans. 

(b) The syndicate is believed to have been involved in more than 360 reports, with more than $1.3 million of losses.
11. But enforcement after the fact is scant comfort for the victims. We want to go upstream, to prevent the scam from happening in the first place, by strengthening deterrence and accountability in the use of local SIM cards. 

12. Hence, Clause 3 of this Bill introduces new offences to target three groups of people who misuse local SIM cards to facilitate scams. 

Irresponsible Registrants

13. First, irresponsible subscribers. These are people who give away their local SIM cards, or provide their particulars to others to be used to sign up for local SIM cards. Often, they do so to earn a quick buck. 

(a) Based on a sampling study, close to 80% of local SIM cards misused for crime were registered with another person’s particulars.

14. Every SIM card in the hands of a scammer is a weapon. 

(a) Armed with even just one SIM card, a scammer can do a great deal of harm. 

(b) In a 2021 case, a single local mobile line was linked to 48 job scam reports, with losses amounting to approximately $1 million. 

15. In most of the cases, the Police have faced difficulties in taking these irresponsible subscribers to task. 

(a) Current laws put the onus on the Police to prove that the subscribers knowingly gave away their local SIM cards for unlawful purposes.

(b) This is hard to prove. Irresponsible subscribers can easily claim that they were unaware of the consequences of their actions.

16. For example, in 2023, a subscriber signed up for 11 postpaid SIM cards and sold them to a friend, and claimed that his friend said the mobile lines were needed to create accounts on cryptocurrency platforms. 

(a) Six out of the 11 mobile lines were later found to have been used in scam cases. 

(b) When interviewed, the subscriber claimed that he did not know that the mobile lines would be used for unlawful purposes. 

(c) As there was no evidence to suggest otherwise, the Police could not take any action against him.

17. The Bill will introduce new offences in Sections 37B and 37C of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOA) targeting irresponsible subscribers.

(a) It will be an offence for a person to:
(i) Hand over local SIM cards registered with his own particulars to another person, or 

(ii) Allow his own particulars to be used to sign up for a local SIM card by another person.

(b) A person will be liable, if he did so knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that the local SIM card would be used for unlawful purposes.

18. To address the challenge that the Police face today in proving knowledge or criminal intent, an irresponsible subscriber will be deemed liable in the following scenarios:

(a) One, the irresponsible subscriber gave away the local SIM card for any gain; 

(b) Two, he did not take reasonable steps to find out the identity and physical location of the recipient of the local SIM card; or

(c) Three, he did not take reasonable steps to find out the recipient’s purpose for obtaining the local SIM card.

19. These scenarios are based on actual cases. With these new laws, a person in these scenarios will no longer be able to simply claim ignorance as a defence. The law puts the onus on the person to prove that he was unaware. 

20. To be clear, Sir, it is not our intent to criminalise people who give away their local SIM cards for legitimate purposes. 

(a) For example, some people register SIM cards in their names for family members’ use, including elderly parents and children. 

(b) It is also not our intent to penalise people who were genuinely tricked into giving up their credentials, which were subsequently used to register for local SIM cards.

Middlemen Who Deal in Local SIM Cards

21. The second group we are targeting are middlemen involved in procuring or providing local SIM cards to scam syndicates.

22. The Police have caught people transferring or possessing local SIM cards not registered with their own particulars. In most of the instances, they were doing so without legitimate reason. 

23. Similar to irresponsible subscribers, the Police have faced difficulties in prosecuting such middlemen, as it is difficult to prove that they had intended to abet an offence.

(a) In one case, the Police identified a middleman who collected fraudulently registered local SIM cards from an accomplice, and then sent the SIM cards to scammers in Malaysia. 

(b) At the point of arrest, the middleman was found to be in possession of 290 prepaid SIM cards that were fraudulently registered. In total, the middleman was found to have purchased over 1,000 prepaid SIM cards that were fraudulently registered, between 2010 and 2021.

(c) Although the middleman was initially charged in court, he was eventually given a discharge amounting to an acquittal, due to evidential difficulties.

24. The Bill introduces offences in Sections 39D and 39F under the MOA to target middlemen. They would be liable for either:

(a) First, receiving or possessing local SIM cards, with intent to use or supply them for unlawful purposes.

(b) Second, supplying local SIM cards, knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that they would be used for unlawful purposes. 

25. These provisions will not only cover local SIM cards registered with other persons’ particulars, but will also cover unregistered local SIM cards, as these can be easily activated by scammers using stolen credentials.

26. To address the evidentiary challenge that the Police face today, a person who receives, supplies or possesses such local SIM cards may be deemed liable, without the Prosecution having to prove knowledge or criminal intent, if:

(a) The local SIM cards were used for crime; or

(b) 11 or more local SIM cards were found in the middleman’s possession

27. Specifically for dealing with local SIM cards registered with other persons’ particulars, a person may be deemed liable in three scenarios:

(a) One, he received or supplied the local SIM card for any gain; 

(b) Two, he did not take reasonable steps to find out the identity and physical location of the recipient of the local SIM card; or 

(c) Three, he did not take reasonable steps to find out the recipient’s purpose for obtaining the local SIM card.

28. The Bill also introduces a new Section 39E in the MOA, to deal with people who buy, sell or rent a local SIM card registered with another person’s particulars. 

(a) As this involves an exchange of money, it is more serious than simply receiving or supplying local SIM cards. 

(b) There is no reason why someone other than a contracted retailer should be trading local SIM cards registered in another person’s particulars, in exchange for money or other benefits.

(c) As such, the provision is drafted such that the Prosecution would not need to prove criminal intent in making out an offence.

29. It is not our intent to catch those who receive, supply or possess local SIM cards for lawful purposes. 

(a) For instance, employers holding on to SIM cards intended for their employees. So if they make an explanation, then this would be taken into consideration. 

Errant Retailers

30. The third group of people we are targeting is errant retailers. 

31. IMDA requires mobile service providers to implement measures to prevent fraudulent registrations. The mobile service providers may appoint third-party retailers to sell SIM cards and perform registrations, and subject these retailers to similar requirements by way of contractual obligations. 

(a) For example, retailers are required to verify the identity of subscribers by visually checking the subscribers against their original IDs. 

(b) They are also required to scan subscribers’ IDs, instead of manually keying in the subscribers’ personal particulars. 

(c) Mobile service providers may be in breach of  the  regulatory obligations,  if they or their appointed retailers had lapses in implementing these requirements.

32. The vast majority of retailers adhere to IMDA’s requirements. However, a number have used stolen or false credentials to register local SIM cards, which they then sell to scammers. 

(a) In a sampling study of around 1,400 local SIM cards used in scams in the second half of 2023, we found that about 65% of such SIM cards were sold by just 9 retailers. 

(b) In a recent case, the Police arrested four handphone retailers who had used the particulars of unsuspecting subscribers to register post-paid SIM cards, and then sold these SIM cards to customers – likely scammers – who wanted to conceal their identity.

33. Such errant retailers should be held accountable. Not only do they tarnish the reputation of their peers, their actions cause many victims to suffer losses.  

34. However, there is no offence that specifically deals with these retailers. 

(a) Under today’s regime, these retailers might simply lose their contracts with the mobile service provider.

(b) Stronger deterrence is needed if we are to prevent such retailers from helping scammers easily acquire fraudulently registered SIM cards.

35. As such, the Bill introduces a new Section 39G to target errant retailers. 

(a) The new section makes it a criminal offence to facilitate fraudulent registrations knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that the local SIM card would be used for unlawful purposes.

(b) Errant retailers may also be liable if the local SIM card is proven to have subsequently been used for unlawful purposes.

36. The new criminal offence will complement our current regulatory levers, and allow heavier punishments to be imposed on errant retailers. 

(a) This includes imprisonment sentences for the employees who were involved in the fraudulent registrations.

37. The vast majority of law-abiding retailers need not be concerned. The offence does not affect them.

Penalties, Corporate Liability and Extraterritoriality

38. Now, let me explain the other aspects of the new offences.

39. The penalties for the new SIM card offences will be pegged to those for the misuse of Singpass credentials under the Computer Misuse Act.

(a) The offences for irresponsible registrants will carry a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or both. 

(b) The offences of receiving, supplying and possessing local SIM cards and facilitating fraudulent registrations of local SIM cards will carry a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or both, for a first offence. For a second or subsequent offence, the penalty will be a fine of up to $20,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both. 

40. All the new offences will also apply to corporations and unincorporated associations such as partnerships and societies. 

(a) However, as such entities cannot be subject to imprisonment, the maximum fines for these entities will be twice the amount for individuals.

(b) Clause 4 of the Bill introduces standard provisions for the attribution of liability for MOA offences committed by entities. 

41. The Bill also introduces a new Section 39H to the MOA, to allow the new SIM card offences to apply extraterritorially, as long as there is a proven link to harm in Singapore. This is necessary, as most scam syndicates operate from overseas. 

42. The new section 39I will provide for all local SIM card offences to be arrestable. 

Allowing the Transmission of False Messages for Legitimate Purposes

43. Next, the Bill amends the MOA to allow the transmission of false messages for certain legitimate purposes, such as to facilitate the conduct of simulated phishing exercises to enhance awareness and vigilance against scams.  

44. Currently, Section 14D of the MOA – which can be traced back to the Telecommunications Act 1965 – criminalises the transmission of a message which the person knows is false or fabricated.  

45. Because of how the provision was drafted, any transmission of a false or fabricated message could be caught, even if the transmission was for legitimate purposes, like the prevention of crime. 

(a) The most pertinent example today would be simulated phishing exercises. 

46. Today, many organisations conduct simulated phishing exercises. This is done to sensitise the staff to phishing attacks, thereby reducing the risk that they, and consequently the organisation, fall victim to scams, cybercrimes, and malicious cyber activities. 

(a) With the current provision, however, the conduct of such exercises could be considered an offence.

47. Clause 2 of the Bill amends Section 14D to introduce a defence for the transmission of false messages for legitimate purposes related to (i) public order, public safety or national security, or (ii) the prevention, investigation or prosecution of offences.

48. This would give organisations assurance that they would not be committing an offence if they transmit false messages for legitimate purposes, such as simulated phishing exercises.


Enhance the Efficacy of Home Team Operations

49. Sir, I will now speak about the amendments to enhance the operational efficacy of the Home Team Departments.

Amendments to Clarify Powers of Apprehension

50. The first group of amendments will clarify powers of apprehension, under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act or MHCTA. 

51. Let me begin by reiterating the Government’s commitment to mental health. Mental health and well-being is a key priority in our national agenda, and the Government is fully committed to doing more to improve mental health and well-being. 

52. During the Motion on Advancing Mental Health in February this year, DPM Lawrence Wong highlighted several key moves the Government will be making, including increasing the number of public sector psychiatrists and psychologists, introducing mental health services to all polyclinics and more GP clinics, and training frontline personnel and volunteers to help people struggling with mental health. 

53. The importance of treating people with mental health conditions with respect and empathy is also not lost on our ground officers, many of whom would be familiar with their own friends and family who may likewise struggle with mental health. 

54. This has always been the case. Since the existing provisions in the MHCTA were enacted in 2008, we have also seen largely effective outcomes when Police interventions were requested. 

55. To be clear, the current amendments do not directly relate to how such cases are treated in our medical system, nor does it relate to the wider community acceptance for people with mental health conditions. 

56. The amendments we are dealing with today relate strictly to how police can be most helpful when they are called to assist in cases when a person may harm themselves or others around them, and Police have reason to believe that the better course of action is apprehension, rather than arrest.

57. Let me unpack for Members how the situation typically unfolds.  

58. The Police are often called to respond to incidents involving persons who may pose a danger to themselves or to others. This may include cases of criminal intimidation where threats of harm are made, or cases of violent behaviour in a public space. 

59. The duty of the Police officers is to prevent the danger from materialising. Where criminal offences are made out, the Police may make an arrest. However, where such danger is reasonably suspected to be attributable to a mental disorder, and it might be more appropriate to bring such persons to a medical practitioner than to a Police lock-up, the Police can apprehend them under Section 7 of MHCTA, This is already provided for by law since 2008. After apprehension, as opposed to arrest, the Police will bring the person to a medical practitioner, and not to a lock-up. 
60. To be clear, powers of apprehension under Section 7 cannot be applied just because a person is suffering from mental health conditions, if the person does not pose a danger to themselves or others. The person must pose a danger to themselves or others. Therefore, it is completely mistaken to think of the existing Section 7 as a measure to address mental health conditions, when in fact it deals simply with situations of danger.

61. In other words, the Police do not get involved in cases of persons with mental health conditions unless they pose a danger to themselves or someone else. The Police will not do so, and in fact cannot do so, even with the amendments to the MHCTA. Such persons will be treated and managed directly by medical practitioners.

62. However, such persons may pose a danger to themselves, for example threatening to commit suicide, or to others, for example, conducting themselves in a manner which may hurt their family or members of the public nearby. In these circumstances, the public would expect and indeed want the Police to intervene, before anyone gets hurt.

63. In a real case, a 73-year-old man was found to be in possession of an ice pick and knife at a police station. When asked why he had those items, he said foreign law enforcement agencies were disturbing his sleep and he would use the ice pick and knife in a bid to tell them to leave him alone. Police apprehended him under the MHCTA, and brought him to IMH for medical treatment. 

64. However, in a recent judgment, the High Court made a determination that for apprehensions under the MHCTA, the danger presented had to be imminent, and it had to be in a matter of hours rather than days. Because of the High Court’s determination, for cases where the time frame of the danger presented is unspecified or is not imminent, the Police do not have the option of apprehending the person and bringing him for medical treatment.

65. Police officers confronted with these situations are left with two options – either not take any action, and risk people getting hurt or even killed; or to make an arrest under criminal laws and put the person through the criminal process. 

(a) The first option is not responsible; the public expects the Police to keep Singaporeans safe.  

(b) The second option is not ideal; criminal arrest is not what the person who may have mental health conditions needs. 

66. Clause 13 therefore amends the MHCTA to allow the Police to apprehend the person in such situations to take them for medical treatment.    

67. The same High Court judgment determined that apprehensions are distinct from arrests under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). This means that Police officers do not have certain powers associated with arrest, which are essential when making apprehensions. In particular, the High Court determined that the Police do not have powers of search and seizure to ensure that the person is not hiding dangerous weapons or items. 

68. This presents a problem. Police would be expected to hand over the person to the staff of the medical facility only after ensuring that he is not in possession of weapons. Clause 14 therefore amends the Police Force Act to make clear that relevant powers such as those of search and seizure are available to the Police when making apprehensions, whether under the MHCTA or any other Acts. This does not mean that the person will be needlessly roughed up. On the contrary, having assessed that the person may be suffering from mental health conditions, Police officers are minded to carry out search and seizure with due care and respect.

69. Sir, I want to reassure members that the Government is mindful of the social stigma and challenges that persons with mental health conditions face. Section 7 of MHCTA is not meant to place additional burdens on such persons or their families. Instead, our goals are to prevent danger from materialising and enable persons with mental health issues to access medical care in a timely manner. 

Amendments to Enable Police Not to Take Further Action for Certain Cases of Non-arrestable Offences

70. I will now move on to the next group of amendments. 

71. Members know that the demands on the Home Team are growing, including the Police. Some have spoken about this at the recent Committee of Supply debate, and I thank them for their support and appreciation of the hard work Home Team officers do for the safety and security of Singaporeans. 

(a) The following amendment relates to Police’s obligations when non-arrestable offences are reported. 

72. Clause 6 of the Bill amends the Criminal Procedure Code to enable the Police to not take further action for non-arrestable offences in two circumstances – one, if the case is not of a serious nature, or two, if there are insufficient grounds for proceeding with the matter. 

73. Similar provisions are already present for arrestable offences. For example, where Police receive a report of a traffic accident with no injuries, they are empowered to not take further action, even though arrestable offences such as dangerous or careless driving may be disclosed. 

74. However, the same exceptions are currently not available for non-arrestable offences. Today, when a non-arrestable offence is reported, the Police must either investigate the case, refer the informant to a Magistrate, or refer the case to a mediator of a Community Mediation Centre. This legal obligation applies even if the Police have reason to believe that the case is not of a serious nature, or there are insufficient grounds for proceeding with the matter. This obligation results in poor use of public resources.

75. This amendment therefore seeks to align the Police’s obligations whether for offences that are arrestable or non-arrestable. This will provide Police more operational flexibility to decide whether a Police report is deserving of action. 

Amendments Relating to Bail / Personal Bond and Detention

76. Another group of amendments enhances the Home Team’s operations and reduces operational risks. 

77. Clause 5 and clauses 7 to 12 allow officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA) to grant bail or personal bond for arrested persons. Today, these persons have to be brought to a Police officer to be released on bail or personal bond. The amendments improve efficiency, as these arrested persons would no longer need to be brought to a Police lockup or to a Police officer for granting of bail or personal bond.

78. The proposed amendments also allow persons arrested under the National Registration Act and the Passports Act to be detained in immigration depots, such as ICA Building, Tuas Checkpoint and Woodlands Checkpoint, instead of bringing them to Police stations. This reduces operational risks in the transport of these arrested persons.


Enhance and Safeguard YRSG’s Operations

79. I will now speak on the third and last set of amendments, which seeks to enhance and safeguard Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG)’s operations. 

80. Clause 15 of the Bill includes two amendments to the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises Act, or the SCORE Act in short. 

81. The first amendment is to provide YRSG with greater flexibility in staff administration and disciplinary matters.

82. Currently, YRSG’s internal disciplinary framework is stipulated in subsidiary legislation. This means YRSG needs to enact changes in the subsidiary legislation in order to change its internal disciplinary framework. 

83. This is unnecessary and inconsistent with the practices of most statutory boards. 

84. The Bill amends the SCORE Act to remove the need for subsidiary legislation to be made regarding administrative staff matters. Consequently, the two existing pieces of subsidiary legislation or staff disciplinary matters will be revoked.

85. The second amendment is to safeguard Yellow Ribbon symbols and representations. 

(a) They include YRSG’s corporate logo and symbols of initiatives related to YRSG’s mission, such as the Yellow Ribbon Project and Yellow Ribbon Fund logos. 

(b) These logos are registered trademarks belonging to YRSG. They are used in YRSG’s campaigns and programmes to galvanise society to support the reintegration of ex-offenders. 

86. However, there have been instances where these symbols were misused for ill intent. 

(a) For example, we had received feedback from members of the public that they were approached at hawker centres by individuals selling merchandise, or individuals going door-to-door asking for donations, and were shown documents with the Yellow Ribbon logo. 

(b) In these instances, the symbols were used for the individual’s own benefit, under the guise of supporting ex-offenders. 

87. To safeguard the symbols and ensure that they are not misused, the Bill amends the SCORE Act, to give YRSG the exclusive right to the use of YRSG’s symbols, and symbols of initiatives related to YRSG’s mission. 

(a) Those who misuse these symbols will be liable for prosecution, and could face a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both. 

(b) In the case of a continuing offence, the offender could be further fined up to $250 for every day or part of a day during which the offence continues after conviction. 

88. This is consistent with existing provisions governing the use of the symbols of other MHA statutory boards.



89. Mr Speaker, Sir, this Bill will strengthen our anti-scam efforts. The new SIM card offences will help disrupt the operations of criminal syndicates. 

90. The Bill will also allow us to better protect the public, as well as enable our Home Team officers to carry out their duties more effectively and efficiently.

91. Sir, I beg to move.