Published: 08 May 2023
1. The Online Criminal Harms Bill (“the Bill”) was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today. It introduces levers to enable the authorities to deal more effectively with online activities that are criminal in nature. It is the next piece in our suite of legislation, including the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, and the recently amended Broadcasting Act, to better protect the public in Singapore from various harms in the online space.
2. Online services have transformed our lives, bringing new opportunities for people and businesses. However, the online space is also increasingly being exploited by criminals. For example, in Singapore, we have had to deal with cases such as the dissemination of voyeuristic images and the sale of drugs that leverage a variety of online platforms. Earlier this year, 23 men were arrested in an operation against online child sexual exploitation, including for the transmission of obscene materials.1 In 2022, 32 drug offenders were arrested in an operation against drug transactions conducted through chat apps.2
3. Scams and malicious cyber activities have also proliferated in recent years. Last year, 33,669 scams and cybercrime cases were reported in Singapore, a 25.2% increase from 2021, and more than S$660 million was lost to scams.3
4. The most common scams, such as those offering attractive investments, jobs and product deals, were often perpetrated or facilitated through online platforms. Phishing, which is often an attack vector for scams and malicious cyber activities, has also increased significantly. Approximately 8,500 phishing attempts were reported to SingCERT in 2022, which is more than double the 3,100 phishing attempts reported in 2021.
5. The Government has spared no effort in public education and engaging private sector stakeholders such as banks and telcos to join in our fight against online criminal harms. But given the pervasive threat and grave impact of online criminal harms on victims, more needs to be done. The Bill tackles online content which is criminal in nature or used to facilitate or abet crimes.
6. It will enable the Government to better protect the public in Singapore by:
(a) Taking swift action against criminal activities carried out online; and
(b) Proactively disrupting scams and malicious cyber activities before they harm more victims.
Key Features of the Bill
Government Directions Against Specified Criminal Offences
7. The Bill will allow the Government to issue Directions to any online service through which criminal activities could be conducted, and will be applicable to criminal offences specified in the First Schedule of the Bill, such as offences that affect national security, national harmony, and individual safety (refer to Annex A for examples).
8. Government Directions may be issued when there is reasonable suspicion that an online activity is being carried out to commit a crime. Depending on the facts of the case, the following Directions may be issued (refer to Annex B for an overview):
(a) Stop Communication Direction. This requires the recipient of the Direction to stop communicating specified online content (including substantially similar content) to people in Singapore. The recipients of the Direction are persons and entities who communicated such online content.
(b) Disabling Direction. This requires online service providers to disable specified content (e.g. a post or page) on their service from the view of people in Singapore, which may include identical copies of the content.
(c) Account Restriction Direction. This requires online service providers to stop an account on their service from communicating in Singapore and/or interacting with people in Singapore.
(d) Access Blocking Direction. This requires internet service providers to block access to an online location such as a web domain from the view of people in Singapore.
(e) App Removal Direction. This requires app stores to remove an app from its Singapore storefront to stop further downloads of the app by people in Singapore.
Proactive Prevention of Scams and Malicious Cyber Activities
9. Scams and malicious cyber activities that are propagated online can harm many people in a short time. Numerous websites, online accounts, and content are created every day to facilitate such crimes. They usually appear benign at first glance, making it difficult for potential victims to notice their malicious nature. Syndicates are increasingly sophisticated. They operate at industrial scale, and victims can fall prey within minutes of the launch of a scam campaign. Refer to Annex C for illustrations of scam activities.
10. To counter the scale and speed achievable by criminal actors, we need a proactive approach.
(a) The Bill will therefore allow Government Directions to be issued when it is suspected that any website, online account, or online activity may be used for scams or malicious cyber activities. Compared to the other specified criminal offences (see paragraph 8), the lower threshold for taking action enables the Government to disrupt scams and malicious cyber activities before anyone falls prey.
(b) Tackling scams and malicious cyber activities also requires close collaboration between the authorities and online services. The Bill creates a framework to strengthen partnership with online services to counter scams and malicious cyber activities. Under this framework, the Government can require designated online services to proactively disrupt scams and malicious cyber activities affecting people in Singapore.
11. This and other requirements will be set out in the form of Codes of Practice which will be issued by a Competent Authority, who will be responsible for administering the Act. An officer from the Singapore Police Force will be designated as the Competent Authority.
Codes of Practice and Directives
12. The Codes of Practice, which may be different depending on the nature of the online service, may require the designated online services to have systems, processes, and measures in place for the purposes of:
(a) Enabling partnerships and sensemaking with the Government to proactively deal with scams and malicious cyber activities;
(b) Preventing scams and malicious cyber activities on the services; and
(c) Supporting the Government’s enforcement actions against such crimes.
13. If there continues to be a persistent risk of scams or malicious cyber activities on the designated online service despite the Codes of Practice, the Competent Authority may issue a Directive to the service to implement specific measures to reduce these risks.
14. Recipients of a Government Direction and originators of the online activity targeted by the Direction can appeal to a Reviewing Tribunal to vary or cancel the Direction. The Reviewing Tribunal will comprise a District Judge or Magistrate appointed by the President, on the advice of the Cabinet.
15. Designated online services can appeal to the Minister for Home Affairs against decisions by the Competent Authority relating to Codes of Practice and Directives.
16. The Online Criminal Harms Bill is another important step towards creating a safer online space for Singaporeans. Complementing public education efforts and the steps being taken to build a discerning citizenry, this Bill enables the Government, in partnership with industry, to act more effectively against online criminal activities, including scams and malicious cyber activities.
 Police News Release on 23 Men Arrested in Operation Targeting Online Child Sexual Exploitation Activities (27 Mar 2023): https://www.police.gov.sg/media-room/news/20230327_23_men_arr_in_op_targeting_online_child_sexual_exploitation_activities
 Central Narcotics Bureau News Release on 32 Suspected Drug Offenders Arrested for Drug Transactions Conducted on Chat Applications (20 Apr 2022): https://www.cnb.gov.sg/NewsAndEvents/News/Index/32-suspected-drug-offenders-arrested-for-drug-transactions-conducted-on-chat-applications
 Annual Scams and Cybercrimes Brief 2022.
1. Annex A – Examples of Specified Criminal Offences in the Bill, (PDF, 61.3 KB)
2. Annex B – Illustration of How Directions Work, (PDF, 35.1 KB)
3. Annex C – Illustrations of Scam Activities (and Why a Proactive Approach to Preventing Scams and Malicious Cyber Activities Is Required), (PDF, 245 KB)