Published: 27 February 2018
The Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today. The Bill is part of the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) ongoing efforts to combat the threat of terrorism.
Updating of Existing Special Powers Legislation to Enable Police to Respond Effectively to Serious Incidents such as Terrorist Attacks
2. Singapore continues to face a clear and present security threat, posed by home-grown radicalised individuals and foreign terrorists who view Singapore as a prized target. Attacks around the world have shown that the terrorists are continuously evolving their methods to inflict maximum casualties and deaths. It is therefore important to equip the Police with powers to be able to respond swiftly and effectively to attacks of any scale and of varying tactics.
3. Over the last two years, MHA has significantly enhanced our ability to respond to the terrorism threat. The Public Order Act was amended and the Infrastructure Protection Act was enacted to enhance the security of large events and critical buildings respectively. The Police have also developed new capabilities for rapid and effective response to terrorist incidents.
4. As part of these continuing efforts to combat terrorism, MHA is introducing the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, to provide the Police with the powers necessary to deal with serious public order and safety incidents, including terrorist attacks. The Bill updates the existing Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA), which was enacted in 1958 to provide special powers to deal with large-scale communal riots. As part of the Bill, POPA will be repealed.
Key Provisions of the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill
5. The Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill will:
Enable the use of special powers for serious incidents affecting public safety
6. The special powers in the Bill are not available to the Police for routine operations. The Minister for Home Affairs must first issue an order to authorise the use of the powers in the Bill. To do so, the Minister must be of the opinion that (i) a serious incident has occurred or is occurring in Singapore, or there is a threat of such a serious incident occurring, and (ii) that the special powers are necessary to prevent the occurrence of the incident, reduce its impact, or control, restore or maintain public order.
7. The existing POPA provides special powers to deal with large-scale public disorder, such as communal riots. However, they cannot be used in situations which seriously threaten public safety but there is no large-scale public disorder. For example, in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack when the pursuit of the terrorists is underway, but there is no large-scale public disorder. The Bill provides for special powers to be used in such serious incidents where public safety is threatened, and also where there is serious violence affecting the public.
Enable Police to protect the secrecy of tactical operations
8. Denying the terrorists access to information on Police's ongoing tactical operations to neutralise the attack, is critical for the success of the operations. Leakage of such information to the terrorists could endanger the lives of security officers and members of the public who are caught in the attack.
9. During the Mumbai attacks in 2008, live media broadcast of security forces preparing to storm the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel allowed the gunmen within to anticipate the actions of the security forces. In the January 2015 attack on the Hyper Cacher Deli in Paris, the terrorist who was holding several hostages in the deli was able to watch live television broadcasts showing Police officers outside preparing to storm the deli. In both incidents, there is no doubt that the information available to the terrorists made the Police operation more difficult, reduced the chances of a successful operation, and put the safety of the officers and hostages at greater risk.
10. The Bill therefore proposes that after the Minister has issued an order to authorise the use of the powers in the Bill, the Commissioner of Police be empowered to make a communications stop order to require all persons in the incident area to stop making or communicating films or pictures of the incident area, and stop communicating text or audio messages about the ongoing security operations in the incident area. This is a special power which would only be used when the security situation calls for it.
11. The Bill also provides the Police with powers to take down or disable any unmanned aircraft and autonomous vehicles and vessels in and around the incident area, regardless of their intention and activity. Such unmanned aircraft and autonomous vehicles and vessels can be used for surveillance by the terrorists or even as weapons. Currently, the Police only has powers to take down unmanned aircraft and autonomous vehicles and vessels which are clearly posing a threat to public safety and security.
Enable Police to respond to serious incidents more effectively
12. The Bill will incorporate and update several special powers already available in POPA. In addition, the Bill introduces new provisions needed for today's operational context.
13. The Bill will enable the Police to direct owners of buildings within the incident area to take certain actions, such as closing their premises, restricting entry and exit, or to provide the Police with information about their buildings like floor plans. These directions will help the Police to manage the safety of the public in the incident area, and facilitate security operations.
14. The Bill will also provide the Police with enhanced powers to stop and question individuals within the incident area in order to obtain information. Such powers are needed, for example, when the Police is conducting a manhunt. When these special powers are exercised, it is an offence for individuals to refuse to provide information to the Police.