Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill 2018 - Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister, Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Manpower

Published: 21 March 2018

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




2. In Singapore, it is difficult to imagine the circumstances under which the powers in this Bill would be required.


3. We see news reports of gunmen attacks, hostage incidents.


4. But they are happening elsewhere, not in Singapore. Not yet, fortunately.


5. The closest we came was when we uncovered the JI bombing plot.


      1. Our security agencies picked it up, acted swiftly, and as a result, we avoided a calamity.


6. That happened in 2001, well over a decade ago.


      1. After the shock, memories have faded.


      2. But for those who do remember, the thought may still send a chill down their spine.


7. Last year, another chilling piece of news emerged. 


      1. Syaikhah Izzah, a pre-school assistant, became the first female Singaporean to be detained under the Internal Security Act.


      2. She became radicalised and made plans to travel to Syria to support ISIS, to be a martyr's widow.


8. Since 2015, there have been 18 other Singaporeans like Syaikhah who had to be dealt with under the ISA. 


      1. In all these cases, our security agencies managed to intervene in time.


9. But we may not be so fortunate every time.


10. Because a terror attack hasn't happened in Singapore yet, it is difficult to appreciate the severity of the threat, and to imagine the grave consequences.


11. But, Mr Speaker, the reality is that Singapore faces a clear and continuing threat. 


12. Foreign terrorists see Singapore as a prized target. We stand for many things in opposition to their ideology. 


13. Singapore has been cited as a target in jihadist publications and videos, by both ISIS and other groups.


      1. There were two ISIS-linked plots against Singapore in 2016, including the foiled plot by Batam-based terrorists to launch a rocket attack against Marina Bay Sands.


14. We should therefore not be lulled into a false sense of security.  We have to prepare.


      1. In 2016, the Police introduced new capabilities to allow them to respond swiftly to an attack, and they continue to enhance these capabilities.


      2. In 2017, MHA amended the Public Order Act ('POA') to enhance security for large-crowd events.


      3. The Infrastructure Protection Act was passed to enhance security for critical buildings.


15. Now, MHA is introducing the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, or POSSPA, to ensure that the Police have the necessary powers to be able to deal effectively with serious incidents such as a terrorist attack.


16. Members may ask, why is POSSPA needed? 


17. Don't we already have the Public Order (Preservation) Act ('POPA') that gives special powers to deal with serious public order incidents?


18. Didn't we update the POA just last year?




19. Mr Speaker, we have been studying terror attacks in other countries to ensure that our counter-terrorism strategies are robust.  


20. They provide many useful lessons which are relevant to this debate, and I would like to share them with Members. 


21. They will help illustrate the gaps we have in our present laws.


22. Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to show some pictures during this segment.


Need to expand coverage in POPA to include serious incidents affecting public safety, such as terrorist attacks

23. First example, April 2013, Boston marathon. 


24. The bombings killed 3, and injured about 260.


25. The Boston Police narrowed the suspects to a pair of brothers - Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The Police ordered an extensive manhunt.


26. In the residential area of Watertown, the suspects got into a shootout with the Police. Tamerlan was killed and 15 officers were injured.


27. Dzhokhar escaped, and the Police had to mount a house-to-house search. During this time, the Police issued a voluntary stay-in-place request within a 20-block area.


28. Despite this request by the Police, some residents still ventured outdoors. Part of the reason could be because, as you can see in the photos, there was no large-scale public disorder and the streets did not look dangerous. 


29. The fact that the fugitive Dzhokhar was armed, had shot and killed one Police officer, was not obvious. 


30. Regular people who ventured outdoors in spite of Police request unknowingly affected Police operations, which became much more difficult to manage. They also put their own their lives at great risk.


31. Had the Watertown manhunt taken place in Singapore, POPA could not have been activated because there was no public disorder. We would not, like the Boston Police, have been able to enforce a curfew in the search area to facilitate the manhunt operation and keep people safe from danger.


Need to quickly bring powers to bear in serious incident areas; and prevent compromise of security operations

32. Second example, January 2015, gunmen attacks in Paris. 


33. On 7 January, two armed attackers entered the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. They killed 12, injured 11 and then fled. 


34. Several shootouts took place, as the Police pursued them across north-eastern France. 


35. The two gunmen were killed two days later, after Police stormed the building in which they were hiding.


36. On that same day, a third gunman walked into a Jewish supermarket, and took hostages. 


37. In total, 17 were killed and 11 injured. The French Police had to pursue the suspects over many areas, quickly, to prevent them from killing more.


38. The point is this: incidents can evolve very quickly; the theatre of operations also shifts quickly.


39. Had the Charlie Hebdo incident taken place in Singapore, POPA would be inadequate even if we expanded its scope to apply to a terrorist attack.


40. The Minister would have to make new proclamations to bring the powers to bear in every new incident area, every time the operations shift to the new location.


41. The Police response would be much less timely.   


42. Another problem was the live news footages showing Police officers ready to storm the supermarket to rescue hostages. 


43. Let me show another photo. In this photo, Members could see how the Police were gathering outside the supermarket, and they were getting ready to storm the place. 


44. But the terrorist was able to open fire at the Police officers as soon as they started moving in. He was waiting for the precise moment to strike, and he could. 


45. In a situation like this, the terrorist had every possibility of watching every move of the Police's operation, as it happened. 


46. This would compromise the tactical options that the Police could take and risk the success of the operation. It also put the lives of the officers and hostages in greater danger.  


47. The US Homeland Security Advisory Council studied this incident and published a White Paper in 2016. 


      1. One of the lessons the Council pointed out was the need to reduce the risk of information about Police tactics being leaked, and compromising operations. 


      2. We would be wise to learn this lesson for Singapore too.


48. In several overseas incidents, Police forces had appealed to the public not to transmit or broadcast videos of ongoing security operations, to protect the safety of their officers and the public.


49. But this is usually not effective.  


50. Cases of individuals and media knowingly transmitting and broadcasting are common, even when they are told that the information may lead to loss of lives.


51. Mr Speaker, these overseas examples show why our laws need updating.


52. They happened in developed and cosmopolitan cities, like Singapore. 


53. New threats call for new measures, to better protect Singaporeans and save lives when we come under attack.




54. Having explained today's threat and why we need POSSPA, let me outline:

      1. The situations where POSSPA can be activated;

      2. What tools Police will be given in this Bill to respond effectively to a serious incident;

      3. How these tools will be activated; and

      4. Safeguards against abuse.


Situations where POSSPA can be activated


55. POSSPA is an evolution of POPA.


56. POPA was enacted in 1958, and there have been no major reviews of POPA since.


57. It was designed to deal with large-scale communal riots such as the serious racial clashes in Penang, during the Centenary Celebrations in Georgetown in January 1957, the year before.


58. Under POPA, Police have special powers to deal with serious threats to public order, for example, to impose curfews and disperse assemblies.


59. As there is already a legal framework within POPA that contains the necessary special powers in one Act, MHA is updating this framework to ensure that we remain effective to tackle the evolving security threats.


60. As I explained through the examples, the security threats and challenges have evolved.


      1. In addition to large-scale public disorder, we also have to deal with violent extremism.


      2. MHA is therefore proposing to repeal POPA, and replace it with POSSPA.


61. POSSPA will expand the scope of POPA beyond public order, to enable the Police to also use it for serious incidents affecting public safety, such as a terrorist attack.


62. This is necessary because there may not always be public order problems in, say, a manhunt following a terror attack, such as in the Boston marathon bombings.


      1. The term "serious incident" is clearly defined in Clause 3.


      2. In addition to large-scale public disorder, "serious incidents" include terrorist acts and acts of serious violence affecting the public.


Tools required by Police to deal with a serious incident


63. What are the additional powers provided under POSSPA that will enable the Police to protect public order and safety, in the event of a serious incident?


64. I will first talk about the new tools introduced in POSSPA.


Tool #1: Powers to deal with the impact of modern technologies


65. The first set of tools deals with modern technologies which can endanger the safety of the public and security forces.


66. 60 years ago, when POPA was enacted, there were only landline telephones.


      1. Today, we have smartphones, the internet, 24/7 TV news channels, and drones. Everyone with a smart phone can broadcast, and very many do, sometimes with wider viewership than regular media channels.


      2. Such modern technologies have been both a boon and a bane for the Police. 


67. One clear example when they can hinder Police operations is during sensitive tactical operations, like hostage rescue.


68. The Police need to have the element of surprise over the perpetrators, so that the latter will not start to harm the victims in anticipation of Police's response, or prepare themselves to defeat Police action.


69. The best-laid plans of the Police can be thwarted by a stray tweet or social media livestream. But, existing laws, such as the Public Order Act, may not allow the Police to deal adequately with such risks.


70. During a serious incident, the Police will need every help they can get to be able to successfully execute their mission to save lives.


71. POSSPA therefore contains special powers, to reduce the risk that their operations are compromised by unauthorised communications.


72. Of these powers, the power to make a Communications Stop Order (CSO) has garnered the most attention following the introduction of the Bill.


73. I would like to spend some time to explain this power carefully.


74. Clause 30 empowers CP to issue a CSO which requires a person:


      1. To stop making or communicating films or pictures of the target area; and


      2. To stop communicating text or audio messages about law enforcement operations in the target area.


75. The CSO is not an information blackout throughout a terror incident, as some have portrayed it.


      1. It is location-specific; the CSO will only apply to coverage of the target area.


      2. It is limited in duration; after the security operations are over, the CSO will be lifted. 


76. Even with the CSO, post-incident reporting is still necessary.


      1. Therefore, the Police will allow selected media access to incident locations, so that the events can still be recorded for subsequent use.


77. We had conveyed this arrangement to senior editors and reporters of our local media at various engagements last month.


78. We have also informed some of the foreign media here of our plans and how we will do our best to facilitate coverage.


79. I should add that the CSO is a discretionary power which can only be exercised by CP under specific conditions.


80. Clause 30 allows CP to make such an order only if he assesses that the communication of information about the target area or law enforcement operations compromises the operations or endangers the safety of people during the operations.


81. The Police will publicise the CSO and state clearly the time that it becomes effective, and the boundaries of the target area.


82. A breach of the CSO is an offence which carries up to 2 years' imprisonment, or a fine of up to $20,000, or both.


83. Having said that, let me give this assurance. 


84. The CSO is not aimed at civilians who, for example, may be caught in a hostage situation, and are trying to get information about their predicament to security forces by any means possible. They are not the intended targets. 


85. Instead, we are trying to stop irresponsible communication of ongoing security operations which might endanger lives, such as those of the hostages.


86. Some have asked, "What if someone was merely filming and not transmitting?  That should surely not be a problem?"


87. The problem, I'm afraid, is that in a situation that warrants a CSO, the Police will not have the luxury of time to confirm that everyone was merely filming to document the event, and no one was attempting to share valuable intelligence with the terrorists. 


88. The more important question is this, "when lives are at stake, should we hope for the best or must we assume the worst, that someone, somewhere had malicious intent?"


89. Even if the Police were to order anyone they can see holding a camera to stop filming, as they can under the Public Order Act, what about people with small devices which Police did not notice amid the chaos? 


90. Should the onus be on Police to identify everyone who's filming and stop them, or should the onus be on individuals not to arouse suspicion of their intent? 


91. So let us not be blind-sided.


      1. We hope will never have to issue a CSO. 


      2. If ever there was a need, half measures will not cut it. 


92. Even with a CSO, we can only reduce but not eradicate the risk of unauthorised communications. 


93. Apart from the CSO, Clause 28 empowers the Police to intercept unmanned aircraft ('UAVs') and autonomous vehicles or vessels ('AVs'), in and around the target area.


94. UAVs and AVs can be used for surveillance, and even as weapons.


95. Under today's laws, Police can take down UAVs and AVs only if they are clearly posing a threat to public safety and security.


96. The additional powers in POSSPA will enable the Police to prevent compromising security operations, by taking down any UAVs and AVs in and around the target area.


97. Clause 32 updates the existing POPA Section 9, which allows the Minister to issue a Direction to withdraw telecommunication services in a target area.


98. This is also aimed at preventing the compromise of operations.


99. Instead of issuing the Direction to the now-defunct Telecommunication Authority of Singapore, it empowers the Minister to issue the Direction to the Telecommunication Licensees ('Telcos') instead.


100. We recognise the significant impact on the public if and when Clause 32 is invoked.


101. There is therefore a higher threshold in place.


      1. The Direction can only be issued by the Minister.


      2. This is unlike the other special powers that, once unlocked by the Activation Order, can be authorised by CP.


102. Clearly, these powers will be exercised judiciously. Where the Communications Stop Order is sufficient and effective, there will be no need for a Direction to withdraw telecommunications services.


103. The Telcos were consulted. They understood the need for the Direction.


104. Their main concerns were:


      1. How to operationalise the Direction, and


      2. How to communicate the disruption to clients.


105. The Police will work closely with IMDA and the Telcos to develop plans and conduct exercises, to ensure that a Direction can be implemented effectively.


Tool #2: Power to stop and question individuals


106. Today, the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) empowers the Police to conduct enquiries in relation to a crime. The second tool, in Clauses 16 and 17 of the Bill, provides enhanced powers to stop and question individuals in a target area. 


107. Police may need, for example, to ascertain their purpose for their presence in the area or to get information which might help the Police in their operations.


108. Under POSSPA, refusal to provide the required information will be an offence. 


109. This is to empower Police to get as much relevant information as possible in a timely way.


Tool #3: Directions to premise owners


110. The third tool helps Police to manage buildings in the area affected by the serious incident.


111. Where it is necessary to close the premises or restrict entry, Police will generally work closely with premises owners.


112. It is not a problem if the premise owners are cooperative.  


113. If, however, premises owners are uncooperative, Clause 27 provides powers to the Police to direct premises owners to close the premises, restrict entry, or provide information and documents relating to the premises.


114. As military premises are sensitive locations, the Police will work closely with the SAF to manage any serious incidents affecting these premises, so there will not be a need to use the Clause 27 power in such circumstances.


Tool #4: Empowerment of SAF servicemen, law enforcement officers and civilian assistants


115. The fourth set of tools are provisions which empower SAF servicemen, other law enforcement officers, and civilian assistants who are supporting the Police in dealing with the serious incident.


116. During a serious incident, we may need to tap additional resources to assist the Police.


117. There are established plans for SAF to assist the Home Team in responding to serious security incidents.


118. Under POPA, SAF servicemen were authorised with powers of search, arrest, and to set up cordons.


119. This empowerment of SAF servicemen remains essential, and the Bill retains this, with an updated suite of powers needed by SAF servicemen.


120. However, I will be introducing a Notice of Amendment later at the Committee stage, to move these provisions for authorising SAF servicemen from POSSPA to the SAF Act.


121. This is to ensure a clearly defined command and control by MINDEF and SAF over all deployments of SAF servicemen in support of civilian authorities, including the POSSPA powers which SAF servicemen can exercise.


122. The POSSPA powers can only be exercised by SAF servicemen if:


      1. An Activation Order under POSSPA has been issued, and

      2. The Police requests for assistance from SAF, and

      3. After the Minister for Defence issues the relevant orders under the SAF Act.  


123. It is clear however, that the Police will lead and coordinate the overall response, with the assistance of SAF servicemen.


124. Clause 15 similarly empowers other law enforcement officers and civilian assistants to support Police operations. This is new.


125. Law enforcement officers refer to officers from other Home Team agencies such as ICA, CNB and SCDF.


126. The Police may also ask civilian assistants such as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers and private security officers to help, for example, to man an outer cordon, away from the incident location or hot zone, or prevent persons from entering the cordoned area.


127. This allows Police resources to be diverted to more critical tasks.


128. I should highlight that nothing in POSSPA obliges civilians to assist the Police, and neither will the Police request for civilian assistance where there may be danger.


129. Police will only rely on civilians who are able, and willing to assist. 


130. In other words, a civilian can refuse to assist and no action will be taken against him.


131. As spelt out in subsection (4) of Clause 15, civilian assistants can only exercise a limited set of powers. They are not allowed, for example, to use lethal force.


132. Under Clause 51, law enforcement officers, SAF servicemen and civilians who are assisting police officers are granted protection from legal liability.


133. This is so long as they act in good faith and with reasonable care. This legal protection extends to members of the public who are complying with the Police's orders or directions.


Other tools

134. POSSPA also retains and updates the existing provisions from POPA. These provide tools which are still relevant for Police operations. I will talk about some of the key provisions that have been updated.


135. First, the powers to impose cordons under Clause 18:


      1. This was provided for under POPA section 6.


      2. It has been updated to allow the Police to set up a cordon within a private place.


136. Secondly, the powers of requisition under Clause 35:


      1. This was provided for under POPA section 11.


      2. During a serious incident, Police may require the use of equipment, electricity or space within a premise or land in the target area.


      3. We have retained the compensation framework in POPA. This is in Clause 36.


137. Thirdly, the use of lethal weapons as a last resort.


138. In every circumstance today, lethal weapons can only be used after all other available options have been exhausted, or when it is absolutely necessary such as for time critical situations, where the safety and security of the public is at risk.


139. This remains the case under POSSPA. 


140. When a serious incident has occurred, or is about to occur, the Police will use all available force options to deal with the incident, including legal weapons as a last resort.


141. There are two parts to the updated powers.


142. Part One, the use of lethal weapons in certain circumstances, which was provided for under POPA. 


143. Under POPA, the Police can use up to lethal force, as reasonably necessary, to prevent persons from entering the cordoned area.


144. Clause 18 will expand this to allow the Police to use lethal weapons as reasonably necessary to prevent persons, vehicles or vessels from entering the cordoned area or to remove them from the cordoned area.


145. Similarly, Clauses 19 and 20 allow the use of lethal weapons as reasonably necessary to enforce road closures, and disperse processions and assemblies in the target area, for example, to end an armed skirmish between protestors.


146. Part Two, on the use of lethal weapons to effect arrest and prevent escape from the arrest.


147. Clause 48 will expand the range of offences which allows the Police the use of lethal weapons as reasonably necessary to effect the arrest.


148. The use of lethal weapons is not taken lightly and Police have been careful at all times to first exhaust other means. 


      1. Its record speaks for itself.


      2. This high standard of care will be maintained even in a serious incident.


149. Let me reiterate, lethal weapons can only be used after all other available options have been exhausted, or when it is absolutely necessary such as for time critical situations.


150. The use of lethal weapons remains subject to internal procedures and rules of engagement.


151. Finally, we have also enhanced the penalty for failure to comply with Police's directions or orders under the Bill.


      1. This will now carry a maximum imprisonment term of 2 years, or $20,000 fine, or both.


      2. This is to reflect the seriousness of the offences, and is in line with similar provisions such as the Infrastructure Protection Act.



152.  I have explained in some detail, the various tools which Police will need to deal with a serious incident and which are provided for under POSSPA.


153. POSSPA pulls together the necessary tools, and places this in one coherent piece of legislation.


154. How will the Police gain access to these tools?


155. When an incident has happened or is being threatened, the Police will deal with it using their baseline policing powers.


156. However, if the incident is serious, and the Police assess that they need the special powers under POSSPA, they will recommend to the Minister to activate POSSPA.


157. After considering the Police's assessment, the Minister can issue an Activation Order under Clause 8, if he is of the opinion that:


      1. There is a serious incident occurring, or one has occurred, or there is a threat of a serious incident occurring, in Singapore; and

      2. The exercise of any power in POSSPA is necessary to substantially assist in preventing the incident or reducing the impact of the incident, or to control, restore and maintain public order. 


158. Both conditions have to be met before the Minister can issue an Activation Order.


159. The Activation Order unlocks a range of special powers, which I have explained earlier, which the Police will need to deal with during the serious incident.


160. But it is important to note that these special powers will not automatically come into force upon the issuance of the Activation Order by the Minister.


161. Each special power has to be specifically unlocked by CP only as and when deemed necessary.


162. Under Clause 11, CP issues a Special Authorisation that can target a specific area, person, and/or vehicle.


163. CP may declare more than one target area, target person, or target vehicle, depending on the operational need.


164. The Minister for Home Affairs will publicise the Activation Order in accordance with Clause 8 subsection (2) for example, through the media via press releases, and online and social media platforms.


165. The duration of each Activation Order is capped at one month, after which, the Minister must make a new Activation Order if he assesses that there is a need for a new Order.


166. We do not intend to use the POSSPA powers for longer than is absolutely necessary.


167. After a serious incident has been resolved, we would want to work with the affected communities to return to normalcy as soon as possible.




168. Mr Speaker, I have explained the reasons for this Bill, the additional tools Police will need in a serious incident and how these powers can be accessed.


169. By necessity, the provisions of the Bill are crafted broadly. This is because the threat situation continues to evolve and, quite frankly, the methods deployed by terrorists are increasingly hard to predict. 


170. Through POSSPA, we will provide the Police the tools they need to respond effectively to a serious incident, and some degree of latitude in exercising the special powers when they are activated.


171. But are there any safeguards against abuse?


172. First, as I described earlier, there is a two-tier unlocking mechanism in POSSPA.


173. Not all of the special powers will be used in every case.


174. Even after the Minister has issued the activation order on the request of the Police, CP must apply his mind, and decide:


      1. Which of the special powers are needed to respond to the serious incident;


      2. Who may exercise these powers; and

      3. Which area, person or vehicle these powers may apply to.


175. Second, the law also sets out clear criteria which must be met by Minister and CP before they issue the activation order or special authorisation.


176. Third, even on the ground, the law sets out clear criteria and limits for Police officers to adhere to, in their exercise of these powers.


177. For example, the basis for removing a vehicle, and how they may remove a vehicle from a target area, are set out quite clearly in Clause 24 (1) and (2).


178. Police officers are also subject to internal guidelines and rules of engagement in their exercise of powers.


179. Members may ask why we have not carried over the provision in POPA section 3 subsection (5), which allows Parliament to annul the proclamation by Minister by resolution as a safeguard.


180. There is no sinister reason for this.


181. Even without this provision, members can question the Minister if they believe an Activation Order should not have been issued or should have been annulled. 


182. Parliament has not been and is not prevented from holding Ministers to account for decisions or policies, just because there are no specific provisions in the law. 


183. In any case, judicial review of the Minister's decision to make an Activation Order remains an avenue to curb improper use by the Minister of his powers.


184. But let me return to why we have the Bill in the first place.


185. In a fast evolving incident such as a terrorist attack, time is of the essence. 


186. In the Paris attacks of November 2015, the first incident occurred outside a football stadium. 


      1. Within minutes, there was shooting on the streets.


      2. Long before anyone could make sense of what was going on, hostages had been taken at a theatre. 


187. To save lives, the Police will have to act fast.


188. Should we build in additional layers of approval, for example to require Parliament to confirm the Minister's activation or the CP's authorisations even while the situation is unfolding?


189. Or is a better approach to enable the Police to act swiftly, effectively and in good faith, and be held to account after the crisis is over?


190. In Singapore's case, I believe the latter better serves our interests and I hope members can support this view.




191. Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to give my concluding remarks in Mandarin:


      1. 新加坡既是国际枢纽,也是个多元种族、多元宗教的社会。我们的声誉良好,社会稳定,人民安居乐业。但是也正因为这些特质,让我们成为恐怖分子求之不得的目标。




      2. 我们见证了其他城市的恐怖袭击如何影响群众。政府也认真研究了他们安保部队的应对措施。


      3. 所得出的结论是:现行法律有必要加强。


      4. 公共秩序与安全(特权)法案将在必要时,赋予警察部队特权,让他们对恐怖袭击等危害公共安全的重大事件作出适当的回应,




192. Mr Speaker, we did not introduce this Bill in a vacuum.


193. We did so only after studying the terrorist attacks that had taken place in other countries, and the limitations and problems they faced in dealing with the attacks. 


194. At the same time, in requesting for the special powers in the Bill, we have put in place safeguards. 


195. But even as we debate the extent of the special powers, let us remember that we will never really know whether our preparations go far enough, until they are put to the test in an actual incident. 


196. The bottom line is this: it's up to us to safeguard Singaporeans and Singapore if and when we come under a terrorist attack. In this, we must not fail.   


197. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.


Law and order
Managing Security Threats