Launch of the Online Industry Safety and Security Watch Group - Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Published: 06 January 2021

Distinguished Guests,


Community Partners,




Ladies and Gentlemen,


I) Introduction


1. It is my pleasure to join you for the launch of the Online Industry Safety and Security Watch Group.


2. I am very heartened to see many stakeholders from the industry gathering here today, to pledge your support to make the online arena a safer community for all.


II) Importance of Community Partnerships


3. The safety and security of Singapore has been a cornerstone of our nation’s progress and prosperity, providing the stability not just for our community but also for businesses to succeed.


4. We have done well. The 2020 Gallup Global Law and Order Report ranked Singapore first for the seventh consecutive year in terms of law and order, and our crime rates continue to remain low.


5. Our achievement is in a large part due to our strong partnerships with the community.


6. In 2019, about one in four arrests involving major offences, such as robbery and housebreaking, were made with the help of members of the public.


7. Many volunteers partner us as crime prevention ambassadors, supporting the Police in community patrols in your neighbourhoods.


8. The Police also work closely with the business community on safety and security issues, in particular, crime, and also in preventing the threat of terrorism.


9. Today, we have more than 1,500 partners on the Safety & Security Watch Groups, or SSWGs.


10. These geography-based SSWGs have been successful to enable businesses to strengthen crime prevention measures and to implement target-hardening measures for their premises, to better protect against localised attacks or even crime.


11. In 2008, we brought together businesses in the same industry to address common industry-specific safety and security concerns.


12. Since then, we set up six industry SSWGs in the chemical, financial, hotel, retail, manufacturing, and public entertainment sectors.


13. These industry SSWGs have contributed significantly to our security efforts.


14. For example, the Singapore Hotel Association has proactively led the hotel industry in our SGSecure movement. Many hotel businesses have worked closely with the Home Team to stress-test their emergency response plans and strengthen the security of their premises.


15. This is just but one of the many positive examples of the strong government and industry partnership.


16. On this note, I would like to express a very big thank you to our community and business partners, like yourselves, for your steadfast commitment and your efforts in keeping Singapore safe.


17. Our strong partnership has served us well to keep Singapore safe and secure and we must continue to build on these strong foundation and ties.


III) Evolving Crime and Threat of Terrorism


18. Today, our operating theatre continues to evolve very quickly with the advancement of technology, and with the rapid digitalisation of products and services.


19. his is further accelerated due to COVID-19, as more businesses and personal activities begin to move online.


20. These have supported economic growth and job creation and enabled the economy to function during the pandemic. Can you imagine if the pandemic were to happen about 20 years ago, I think our country and the world will come to a standstill.


21. Technology has allowed us to live our lives, to continue learn and to continue to work, but at the same time, they have also brought about new security threats and challenges.


22. The nature of crime is beginning to shift rapidly. While the physical crime rate has remained low, online crimes have begun to surge, in particular, scams.


23. In the first half of 2020, the number of Police reports on the top 10 scams have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2019. More than $82 million were lost, double the amount in the first half of 2019.


24. Majority of the scams take place on e-commerce and social media platforms, such as Carousell, Shopee, Facebook and Instagram, where victims are often cheated into transferring money to fraudulent sellers, or tricked into disclosing their personal banking details by fake social media accounts.


25. In other instances, scammers also used mass automated voice calls and mass messaging via SMS and services such as Whatsapp and WeChat, to search for potential victims.


26. Terrorism has also expanded its reach and influence via online channels.


27. Digital platforms offer new means to spread extremist propaganda to a wider group of communities. Their designs and algorithms can also create echo chambers and entrench extremist beliefs.


28. These have serious consequences in the real world, as seen in the Christchurch shooting in 2019, where more than 50 were killed.


29. The attacker developed his extremist views from the Internet. He was deeply immersed in extremist internet forums and connected with others on the social media, who reinforced his own beliefs.


30. The attacker also weaponised the Internet to publicise his manifesto and broadcast the attack ‘live’ on Facebook.


31. The content was widely viewed on many other social media platforms, including messaging apps, as many platforms struggled to remove the offensive content online.


32. In November last year, we announced we are investigating more than 30 radicalised individuals. Some of them had incited violence against France in social media postings, while others had made comments to stoke communal unrest. We took firm actions, arrested one subject and repatriated a number of them.


33. These online security threats can instil fear in our people and foment distrust among communities. They can lead to real-life violence and harm.


34. We must enhance our framework, and devise new strategies to deter, to prevent and to bring criminals to task.


IV) Efforts to Tackle the New Threats


35. We have strengthened our laws and enhanced our capabilities to deal with these emerging threats.


36. The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act was amended in 2019 to enable us to take effective and decisive action against threats to religious harmony.


37. Specifically, we removed the need for a 14-day notice period before Restraining Orders can be effected. The scope of the Orders will be expanded to require offenders to take down offensive content online. These tools allow for a swifter response to stem such content at its source before it goes viral.


38. Certain offences on religious harmony will be made extra-territorial to cover offences perpetuated overseas that impact Singapore.


39. We also introduced provisions to guard against foreign influence on our religious groups.


40. On the scam front, we rolled out a new campaign to educate the public to be more discerning and launched the Scamshield mobile application to filter scam calls and messages.


41. The Police have also forged stronger partnerships with businesses and industry partners.


42. We operationalised the Anti-Scam Centre in 2019 with firm support from banks, fintech companies, telecommunication companies, and online marketplaces and new platforms.


43. This enabled us to more effectively disrupt the scammers’ operation. Since its set-up, the centre has handled more than 8,600 scam reports, and recovered more than 40% of the total amount scammed from these victims.


44. Criminals and terrorists will continue to be inventive and will exploit the vulnerabilities of the virtual space.


45. We must stay ahead of these technological developments.


46. Our community partnerships must go beyond the physical sphere, involving business partners and entities online, to strengthen the ecosystem for a more effective and coordinated response to these threats.


V) Formation of Online iSSWG


47. Today, I am happy to announce the launch of the Online Industry SSWG, which formalises the partnership between Police and the Asia Internet Coalition to create a safer online community for all users.


48. The online iSSWG will promote greater exchange of information to fight crime and counter the threat of terrorism. It will enhance public awareness on common scam tactics and cyber safety, it will encourage the sharing of expertise and best practices to strengthen the security of online platforms, and support the development of guidelines, frameworks or industry standards to create safe online communities.


49. I am pleased to note that some of the major companies have taken on the responsibility of doing more to protect online users.


50. For example, Facebook has recently launched an online educational portal in 2019, called ‘We Think Digital’, with resources on topics such as online security, privacy and critical thinking, to enhance digital literacy skills of Internet users all around the world.


51. We are glad Facebook has chosen to run this programme in Singapore first, and has partnered the People’s Association to benefit the seniors in our community.


52. Google has also introduced the ‘Be Internet Awesome’ initiative to help kids explore the virtual world safely and implemented the Google Safety Centre to safeguard users against security threats online.


53. The Online iSSWG will further strengthen the efforts of other online players, to combat online scams and security threats. Collectively, these measures would benefit not only the users, but also enhance the trust users have in the industry.


54. Please allow me now to say a few words in Mandarin:










VI) Conclusion


55. In conclusion, community and industry partnership has always been at the core of our crime fighting efforts.  


56. We value the importance of working closely with our community and business partners, to innovate and build new capabilities to deal with evolving challenges. 


57. We look forward to your unwavering partnership and support to make Singapore safe and secure for all.


58. I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year, and a fruitful seminar ahead.


Managing Security Threats