Wednesday, 6 October 2021

FICA: Singapore passes law to counter foreign interference

Risk of foreign interference 'far greater' than risk of Govt abusing its powers: Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2021

A law against foreign interference was on Monday (Oct 4) passed by Singapore's Parliament after a 10-hour airing in the House, three years after it was first raised and three weeks after the extensive, hotly debated legislation was tabled.


"And these are important to ensure that Singaporeans continue to make our own choices on how we should govern our country and live our lives."


The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, aims to tackle foreign meddling in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and the use of local proxies.

During the debate, 16 MPs from both sides of the aisle surfaced criticisms and concerns raised by lawyers, experts and civil society activists in recent days, including over the law's broad language and lack of judicial oversight.

These resulted in a parliamentary petition to delay its passage put forward by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai, a raft of proposed changes tabled by the Workers' Party (WP), and recorded dissent from opposition MPs at the final vote - but the ruling People's Action Party's supermajority meant Fica's passage was a given.

At around 11.15pm, the Bill was passed with 75 MPs saying "yes", 11 from the WP and Progress Singapore Party objecting, and two Nominated MPs abstaining.

WP chief Pritam Singh had called for a division in which each MP's vote is recorded.


Some proposed amendments to the Bill by the WP were accepted by the Government, including to expand the list of defined politically significant persons to include a member of the executive committee or similar governing body of a political party.

Another accepted modification was to make it obligatory to publicise the designations of these persons, as well as some stepped-up countermeasures against them.

The party had also suggested additional provisions allowing appeals to the court and a public registry of politically significant persons among other changes, which it said would lower the likelihood of abuse of power and lead to greater transparency.

Other MPs had also suggested for greater checks and balances to be incorporated into the law, citing "extensive" discretion granted to the authorities.


Mr Shanmugam offered a biting response, noting that "rhetoric alone doesn't solve problems".

"Parliament is not just a forum for reading out speeches with an intent of putting it out in social media eventually… without offering real suggestions. We need to engage on the issues," he said.

Mr Shanmugam agreed that while executive powers must be subject to checks and balances, the questions are in what form and what are the appropriate and best solutions for Singapore's context.

Earlier, in a speech running more than two hours long to kick off the debate, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore's interracial and inter-religious mix was easily exploitable by foreign actors, who have been steadily building up covert, clever narratives to try an condition Singaporeans' thinking.

"In my view, this is one of the most serious threats we face, and our population and I think most MPs are not really aware of this," he said.

While international media regularly identifies Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as perpetrators, the United States and other Western countries have similar, or in the case of the US, even superior capabilities, added the minister.


He also said foreign interference and the need for legislation have been extensively discussed and debated for more than three years now, dating back to 2018, when a select committee set up to study the issue of fake news gathered detailed evidence on the seriousness of the threat.

Mr Shanmugam also described Fica as offering a more calibrated approach for the Internet age in contrast to blunter levers in other laws, and argued that the risk of rogue foreign interference was far greater than the risk of a rogue government abusing its power.


He also noted that the scope of Fica was narrower than that of laws in America and Australia on political activity by foreign persons or entities, and rejected suggestions by the WP to classify senior civil servants as politically significant persons.

And to protect sensitive information, appeals against directions issued should be heard by an independent reviewing tribunal instead of the courts, he said.

Mr Shanmugam also addressed the law's impact on trust in public institutions.

"Let's get real… Trust doesn't depend on putting in a series of legislation, just copying other (jurisdictions) whose trust levels are abysmally low."

High trust levels in Singapore can be attributed to its performance, probity, leaders' behaviour and exercise of powers, he said, adding that trust would also dissipate quickly in the face of abuse and corruption - particularly in a small place like the Republic.


The minister admitted that in the process of drafting Fica with his officers, there were parts he wished had turned out differently.

"But the threat we face is people armed with bazookas, and I describe this legislation as a toy gun," he said.

"Singapore believes in the law, so we give ourselves legal powers. But in reality the kind of threats we face, the kind of adversaries and the resources they have in terms of manpower, are far greater than what we have.

"Our people haven't even begun to realise what the problem is, and the nature of the problem."













FICA debate: Foreign interference one of the most serious threats facing Singapore, says Shanmugam
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (Oct 4) described the covert escalation of foreign interference tactics targeting Singapore's multicultural make-up as one of the most serious threats faced by the Republic, with its people remaining largely oblivious to the dangers.

In a speech extending over two hours to open a parliamentary debate on the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, he also said such issues have been discussed at length and in depth for more than three years now - since 2018, when a select committee was set up to study the issue of fake news.

That process eventually led to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) being passed the next year.

"Our racial and religious mix is easily exploitable by different countries, and we see a steady build-up of different narratives, which is being very cleverly done," said Mr Shanmugam.

"It's not obvious propaganda but it conditions people to think in certain ways, particularly on foreign policy issues, often appealing to a larger racial identity beyond the Singaporean identity."


He said this in the context of a French think-tank's report released in late September, which observed that Singapore had several characteristics making it both vulnerable and resilient to Chinese influence operations.

The minister cited the report as he sought to explain the reasons underpinning the Bill, which targets foreign interference in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns (HICs) and local proxies.

"The philosophy is that our politics, it's for Singaporeans to deal with. We can argue, disagree, but ultimately it is for us to decide," he said.

"It's not for anyone else to tell us what to do."

He noted that traditional spying and subversion operations have inevitably increased in scope and intensity, due to modern ease of communications, increased interactions, travel, evolving technologies and the Internet as a powerful new medium.

Mr Shanmugam brought up the Gerasimov Doctrine - a military doctrine for the Internet Age developed by Russia - in which aggressors identify issues of "protest potential" in a target country, and use information operations to polarise society in that country and keep it in a constant state of turmoil, so as to more easily achieve their political and military outcomes.

He also outlined several examples of foreign interference across the world, noting that the international media regularly identifies Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as perpetrators.

"I don't know whether these countries in fact did what they are said to have done, but few doubt that they have the capabilities," he said.


While the United States and other Western countries are not mentioned in these Western media reports, they have similar, or in the case of the US, even superior capabilities, he added. "Really, there are no angels in this game."

Mr Shanmugam pointed to a Washington Post report in February 2020 on a Swiss encryption communications provider that had sold devices rigged by American and German intelligence agencies to more than 120 countries.

The story came years after internal documentation by the agencies as early as in 2004, and was simultaneously published by the Post and a German broadcaster last year.

"It has all the hallmarks of a deliberate planned leak," said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the US government was at the time warning about the dangers of relying on technology from China.

"So basically, without embarrassment, this leak came out saying 'we did it, now be careful about the Chinese'.

"Have the Americans actually stopped? We can only guess. But it's now got to be taken as a given that this sort of thing will be done regularly, and everyone will face this."

Mr Shanmugam then reiterated instances of foreign interference in Singapore that had been flagged when Fica was first tabled in Parliament on Sept 13 - including the 2017 expulsion of China-born academic Huang Jing for trying to influence senior decision-makers in Government; the 2016 impounding of the Singapore army's Terrex vehicles in Hong Kong while en route home from Taiwan; and a 2018 spike in critical comments online during tensions with Malaysia.

The Terrex episode led to a coordinated hostile information campaign that attempted to undermine Singapore's foreign position, while online narratives largely in Chinese attempted to influence sentiments among Singaporeans.

So far, efforts targeting Singapore have been relatively low-level - except for ongoing strategic moves and attempts to condition Singaporeans' thinking, said Mr Shanmugam.

He acknowledged some concerns over the Bill being debated just three weeks after it was first tabled.

"We have been talking about this very seriously for more than three years, extensively," he said.

The 2018 select committee on fake news, for instance, had gathered extensive evidence on the seriousness of the foreign threat, he said, including from:

- Disinformation expert Ben Nimmo, who testified on the tactics used by Internet research agencies controlled by Russia, to boost support for former US president Donald Trump's election campaign.

- Cyber-security expert Kevin Limonier, who spoke of an alleged Russian HIC that tried to sway the 2017 French presidential polls using bots and leaked e-mails.

- Dr Shashi Jayakumar, head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), who said it would be a mistake to assume that foreign HICs were not already happening in Singapore.

- RSIS research fellow Gulizar Haciyakupoglu, whose closed-door testimony included indicators of information warfare being practised against Singapore.

- Nanyang Technological University academic Liew Kai Khiun, who said Myanmar-based social media accounts had made inflammatory, Islamophobic comments inciting backlash from Singaporean Muslims.

- RSIS cyber-warfare expert Michael Raska, who highlighted how foreign states could engage in information operations targeting Singapore's fault lines as a means of "asymmetric warfare".

Mr Shanmugam elaborated on Dr Raska's point, noting that Singapore's conventional military superiority in the region ironically meant it was an even larger target online, with the Internet as a particularly attractive theatre for adversaries seeking to harm the Republic.

The minister also noted that aside from at the select committee, the topic of foreign interference was also discussed several times at conferences here, in studies commissioned by think-tanks, in the media and in Parliament, with him and other ministers stating at various points that legislation would be necessary.

"The threat of foreign interference and its seriousness is not disputed by most people," said Mr Shanmugam.

"Most people also agree that something needs to be done."













Risk of foreign interference 'far greater' than risk of Govt abusing its powers: Shanmugam
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

The risk of rogue foreign interference is far greater than the risk of a rogue government abusing its power, said Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam on Monday (Oct 4).

Speaking during the debate of the proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica) in Parliament, he addressed concerns raised on whether the broad range of powers given to the authorities under the Bill, if passed, was justified.


Introduced on Sept 13, Fica aims to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns (HICs) and the use of local proxies.

It has since attracted criticisms for its potential implications in areas such as academic collaboration with foreign entities and a possible lack of judicial oversight.

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, noted that there have been other pieces of legislation that conferred the Government with generally worded discretion.

"Philosophically, the Government has seen that as part of good governance, to ensure that our laws are effective so that the Government can act when it needs to.

"You need checks and balances, but the checks must be suited to the task and balanced against the risks," he said.

There are risks when giving any government any power, whether or not it is appealable to a court, he said. But there are also risks in not giving power.

What if the Government interferes with a "perfectly normal" collaboration with a foreigner and abuses its power, he said. "You have to weigh the risks of a rogue government doing that, versus a rogue foreign interference. The latter is a far greater risk."

The exercise of powers given under Fica can be looked at by a tribunal headed by a Supreme Court judge, he said. Its decisions will be published, and people can see and assess for themselves.

"Ultimately, people have the final say in a highly educated, literate population like Singapore. A final say of both public opinion, and public opinion expressed through elections. People in Singapore won't stand for a rogue government," he said.

"The risk of not giving the power or requiring a court process will, in the context of the risks I have outlined, severely compromise the Government's ability to deal with the real risk of foreign interference, which has actually happened."

He told the House: "I, and I'm sure everyone else here, wish that there is a world where the Government has the power to act, and at the same time, there is a complete check against abuse."

"If we can find that formula, we will gladly take that, because that is ideal. But there is no such formula. Then we have to, first of all, admit that there are trade-offs whichever route you take," he said.

The minister gave examples of various legislation where, he said, the usual judicial process may not be best suited for.

Under the Land Acquisition Act, which allows the Government to buy land for public redevelopment, appeals against any Collector's Awards are heard by an appeals board.

The Collector's Award is a document that indicates the compensation amount awarded for the acquisition of the land or property.

There is good reason for this, said Mr Shanmugam.

"As a small country, we decided that if you want to reshape and develop Singapore, the Government must have the power to acquire land quickly and not be tied up with the normal litigation process," he said.

This "unorthodox" approach to land acquisition has underpinned Singapore's public housing and industrial land policy, he said.

Singaporeans also understand and accept the need for the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows would-be terrorists to be picked up pre-emptively, he said.


Another example is the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which provides for the detention of gangsters and drug dealers without trial.

This is a practical approach, he said. Evidence will often not be available with people frightened to give evidence. In the longer term, more harm will be done to society by not dealing with gangsters, he said.

"So better to give the executive these powers to deal with some types of pernicious criminals. It has helped to keep our society safe," he said.

"If we had stuck to the approach of looking at everything on the basis only of the rights of the person accused, in the way that, say, the United States or the United Kingdom looks at it, without balancing the rights of the society, we will not have the safe and crime-free society we have today."

Mr Shanmugam asked if it would be possible to deal with such issues of foreign interference through a normal court process, where the countries involved are often not named.

"Can you imagine naming one of our neighbours involved, or a much larger country? When we asked (academic and former permanent resident) Huang Jing to leave, we did not say who he was acting for.

"Why? The foreign policy and national security implications are too serious. The US can name any country it wishes, but we are a price-taker in this business of international relations."

Over time, he said, people have seen how Singapore's approach has proved to be good for the majority of people.

He added: "So I say to this House, this law gives the Government a set of tools that can help.

"It is not a complete defence against foreign interference, but it can help. The Bill represents the best balance that we can find between dealing with the risks, and providing checks against abuse."
















Pritam calls for more checks in law on foreign interference to guard against abuse
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

A law to counter foreign meddling in Singapore's affairs confers such exceptional power to the executive branch that there must be the strongest of oversight from the judiciary to ensure accountability, said Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh.

Some parts are drafted in such a way as to "completely displace natural justice from the oversight process", such as a clause providing for hearings where a person filing an appeal may not have complete information on the issue.

"It shocks the sensibilities of many, and it goes some way to explain how this Bill has been framed and understood by the public since its first reading three weeks ago," said Mr Singh, who is chief of the Workers' Party (WP).

He called on MPs to seriously consider his party's amendments to the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, saying the amount of power given to the Government is the most critical issue being debated. "Ask yourself whether you would want these amendments in place if the PAP (People's Action Party) was not in power," he said.

"The amendments are in the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans, regardless of who is in charge now or in the future."

Since it was tabled, the draft law has sparked concern among some lawyers, academics and civil society activists, who fear it will be wielded to clamp down on dissent.

Mr Singh affirmed that the WP's starting position is that the threat of foreign interference and the ease of launching such campaigns online is neither a figment of the imagination nor can it be wished away. It follows that the Government must have potentially intrusive, broad-ranging powers to counter this, but Parliament must then ensure there are equally robust oversight mechanisms to prevent abuse of power, he added.

He took issue in particular with a tribunal that will hear Fica appeals, which will be set up within the executive branch and have quasi-judicial powers. He said the WP rejects such a mechanism, proposing instead that appeals first go to the Minister for Home Affairs, and then the High Court for full judicial scrutiny.


Acknowledging that national security may be at risk, he added that there should be a provision for a private hearing.

There has also been disquiet among some quarters "at the speed at which this Bill has been presented to Parliament", noted Mr Singh, saying the Government should have sought feedback.

He quoted Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo, who told the House in March that "the public has a big part in this, to shape proposals and to give the eventual safeguards their strongest support".

He said: "In the six months between Minister Josephine Teo's statement and the first reading of this Bill, the Government did not hold any public consultation on this Bill, and nor can it be said that the public played a big part in shaping this Bill.

"Most Singaporeans would have readily supported the use of executive power to curb foreign influence. However, I am also sure that if asked, most Singaporeans would be in favour of our courts acting as a check to ensure that executive power is exercised lawfully, appropriately and fairly," he added.

Fica had arisen out of the work of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which held hearings in 2018 amid concerns that disinformation had been used to influence events in other countries, including election results. Citing the committee, which he was a member of, Mr Singh said it had also looked at non-legislative measures.

"It was to be expected from the committee's report that legislation would be used to address the problems identified. What is more difficult to grasp is the comparative lack of public knowledge on the non-legislative levers to address foreign interference."


He said it was important to educate the public so that it can be vigilant against interference that commonly comes through via business plans and cultural conduits where the prospects of plausible deniability are high.

"Surely, non-legislative responses that promote a more participatory and educated citizenry would inoculate the population in a whole-of-society way far better against foreign interference," he added.

He lamented that the Government had not postponed the debate on the Bill in response to calls for more consultation and scrutiny, and said it was perplexing that public feedback was not sought in the past six months.

"There is an opportunity to commit the Bill to a select committee for public input and to review oversight mechanisms, amongst others. The Government should not close the door to this," he said.













Some actively spreading misinformation on law against foreign interference, says Shanmugam
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

The practices of those such as Mr Terry Xu, who as editor of The Online Citizen hired foreigners to write incendiary articles about Singapore, will be able to continue even after the proposed law against foreign interference is passed, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (Oct 4).

The proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, will only require that a direction be given for them to make clear who the authors are and their nationality, he added.

Mr Shanmugam was seeking to debunk misinformation about Fica, which he said was being spread actively by activists Terry Xu, Thum Ping Tjin and Kirsten Han, who have charged that the Government will use the law to silence its critics.

The minister noted that Mr Xu, whose website is now defunct, has paid Malaysians and other foreigners to write articles on Singapore, such as one calling for Singaporean civil servants to march on the streets like their Hong Kong counterparts.

These writers were not identified, he said.

"So you read the articles, what would readers think - these are from local writers writing about Singapore in these terms. But the articles are often by foreign writers who are paid to write these stories. The more incendiary, the better," he added.

"Now, Mr Xu and others can continue to do this, even after Fica, but a direction can be given to them to make it clear that the article is by a foreigner. We all want transparency, right? So, it would be useful for Singaporeans to know whether the writer of the article is local or foreign."

Mr Xu, together with Ms Han, a freelance journalist, had started a petition along with others, to seek more consultation and scrutiny on the proposed law. The petition was put up in Parliament by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai from the Progress Singapore Party, and was debated at the same time as the Bill.


Questioning their motives, Mr Shanmugam said Ms Han, along with Dr Thum, an Oxford-educated historian, had taken money from billionaire investor George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations has a history of getting involved in the domestic politics of sovereign countries.

In 2018, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority rejected the duo's attempt to register a company funded by the foundation to organise "democracy classroom" sessions in Singapore.

Ms Han and Dr Thum had set up the New Naratif website, which receives foreign funding and organises a series of such "democracy classroom" sessions focusing on Malaysia and supported by the United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Shanmugam said.

"Make no mistake about it, we will say no to that in Singapore. You can organise democracy classrooms, we have no issues. Anyone can organise, anyone can criticise the current state of democracy, but it cannot be funded by Soros, or the US Embassy, or any other embassy," he added.

The minister added that Dr Thum and Ms Han had met then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad in August 2018 and urged him to "bring democracy to Singapore".

He also pointed out that Dr Thum had publicly said Singapore should become part of Malaysia and previously expressed regret about Singapore's separation from Malaysia.

Meanwhile, he said Ms Han had encouraged people to push back against the Government's exhortation to prevent foreigners from influencing domestic affairs.

"Her view is that Malaysians can influence our politics. She says so openly," added Mr Shanmugam.

"So, Members can see why the two of them are very concerned that Fica will focus on foreign funding, and have been mounting their own disinformation campaign."

On her part, Ms Han had posted over a hundred tweets and posts on the issue, organised the petition, and also sent around e-mail templates for people to write to their MPs, said Mr Shanmugam.

Meanwhile, Dr Thum has written a commentary describing Fica as a "stealth coup" by the minister.

Citing this, the minister said: "Basically, that I am personally going to take over Singapore, and all my colleagues have to be very concerned. And I suppose a coup means I take over from the Prime Minister."

"It requires a turn of mind, completely at odds with reality, and living in fantasy, to think of a coup in Singapore."

Mr Shanmugam said if he wanted to abuse his powers to mount a coup, existing laws such as the Internal Security Act and Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act have far more powers, including the powers of detention.

"Fica, in contrast, is a toy gun, it gives powers to give directions," he added.

"So, Members can see, there is no limit to the absurdities and fantasies that some will put out. And an Oxford education in itself does not immunise one from spouting such nonsense."
















Proposed law to tackle foreign interference calibrated for the Internet age: Shanmugam
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

The proposed law to tackle foreign interference offers more calibration for the Internet age, explicitly including global online platforms that are often vectors for hostile information campaigns (HICs), said Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam.

In a parliamentary debate on the Bill on Monday (Oct 4), he said that powers available under existing laws to tackle foreign subversion are more blunt than what is proposed under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica).

Introduced on Sept 13, Fica aims to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in domestic politics conducted through HICs and the use of local proxies.

Such HICs, set out by the Ministry of Home Affairs, include the deployment of a sophisticated range of tools and tactics in a coordinated manner by foreign principals to interfere in domestic political discourse, incite social tensions and undermine sovereignty.

Under current laws, should there be an online campaign, and there is basis to believe that it is inspired by a foreign agency or entity, and that it is prejudicial to national security, investigations can be conducted under the Internal Security Act (ISA), said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister.

Information, including the writer's identity, will have to be made available under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). The writer and anyone else suspected of subversion can be detained, he said.

Any challenge will be heard by the ISA tribunal, not by the High Court, said Mr Shanmugam. This will not be public unless the Internal Security Department decides to make it so.

This applies equally whether the subversion is done online or in the physical world, he said.

One of the "pieces of misinformation" about Fica, said Mr Shanmugam, is that it would now allow the Government to get any information, and that this power is new.

"Section 20 of the CPC has been used all these years, and it is in broad terms, to get any information for investigations," he said.

The minister described two types of powers. First, the power to detain or investigate are referred to as "substantive powers". "Executory powers" refer to powers to enforce, such as requiring the taking down of certain material.

Several executory powers are available under existing laws, he said.

For instance, the Broadcasting Act allows the Government to deal with objectionable content online, such as by issuing directions to broadcasting licensees for content to be taken down or blocked.

The Public Order Act allows the Government to regulate physical assemblies and processions. The Commissioner of Police may deny permits for such events that are "directed towards a political end" and involve foreign entities or people.

"So the issues of 'protest potential' are regulated in the physical world. Logically, similar rules should apply in the online space," said Mr Shanmugam.

What does Fica add to the current powers, he asked.

In the case of the person suspected of acting for a foreign agent against Singapore's interests, Fica, if passed, can be used, he said.

This is if it can be shown that online communications activity has been prepared or planned by or on behalf of a foreign principal, and that it is in the public interest for the authorities to give one or more directions.

Examples of directions that can be issued include for a communicator or Internet intermediary to take down content, or for an Internet intermediary to suspend or terminate accounts, he said.

Suspects can also be arrested and prosecuted if an offence of clandestine foreign interference is made out, but under Fica, there would be no detention without trial, he said.

As to how Fica goes further than current laws in addressing the threat of HICs, Mr Shanmugam said this is mainly in "extraterritorial application". "Because (Fica) explicitly includes global platforms, which are often vectors for HICs. So that updates the analogue powers for the Internet age."

For example, said Mr Shanmugam, in the "analogue world", the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and the Broadcasting Act provide powers to proscribe foreign newspapers and broadcasting services.

The digital equivalent under Fica, he said, is the ability to issue directions to proscribe "online locations" - to demonetise the platform - and the removal of apps.

While the Broadcasting Act also provides the power to order a TV station to carry a message, Fica allows for a "must-carry" direction to be issued to communicators or social media services, he added.










Not appropriate to classify civil servants as politically significant persons: Shanmugam
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

It is not appropriate to classify civil servants as politically significant persons (PSPs) under the law to counter foreign interference as they are non-political, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (Oct 4).

Senior civil servants are also already subject to various rules and declaration requirements that are tighter than those imposed on PSPs under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, the minister told Parliament.

"They have to hold a valid security clearance throughout their appointment. They have to make annual declarations, including on investments, ownership and financial embarrassment, declarations on a variety of matters going well beyond what PSPs have to do," he said.

"They have to declare all gifts and entertainment, and they cannot work for other employers or engage in trade or business without explicit permission. They can be directed to cease outside activities or divest investments if there is any perceived conflict."

By contrast, the rules for PSPs are not as tight, the minister said, adding that they can accept anonymous donations below $5,000, or donations from identified persons above $5,000, but any senior civil servant who accepts the same "will not be in service" for much longer after doing so - and may be subject to disciplinary action.


Mr Shanmugam was responding to Workers' Party (WP) MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC), who had suggested adding senior public servants holding the office of deputy secretary or above to the definition of PSPs.

Mr Giam had also asked for the definition of PSPs to include members of central executive councils (CECs), or the equivalent top decision-making bodies, of any registered political party in Singapore, as well as board members or chief executive officers of statutory boards or government companies listed on the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.

Fifth Schedule entities include the Central Provident Fund Board, the Housing Board, Temasek and GIC, among others.

Mr Shanmugam agreed to the addition of party CEC members, noting that the inclusion of CEC members and branch secretaries had been considered previously.

"We left it out because, on the side of the PAP, to comply with this is not going to be difficult; all but two of the CEC members are PSPs anyway, so the obligations are more onerous for the other registered political parties because not many - in some cases, none - of the CEC members are PSPs."

But the minister noted that chief executives of statutory boards are already subject to the same rules as senior civil servants. As for board members, it would not be feasible to designate them as PSPs because boards often have foreign members, and asking them to declare all donations received in their home countries, their migration benefits and all their foreign affiliations would not make sense, he added.

Mr Giam had also suggested removing two aspects of the meaning of "directed towards a political end in Singapore" in the Bill, namely actions "to influence, or seek to influence, public opinion on a matter which, in Singapore, is a matter of public controversy" and "to influence, or seek to influence, any aspect or to promote or oppose political views, or public conduct relating to activities that have become the subject of a political debate, in Singapore".

He said these two parts of the Bill cover "an extremely wide variety of policy matters and issues which may be discussed by Singaporeans". Public discussions of such issues invariably involve the views of foreigners, Mr Giam added.

But Mr Shanmugam said this would essentially mean allowing foreigners to interfere by shaping public opinions on matters of public controversy, or influence public views on a political issue, whether or not deception is involved.

He rejected the suggestion, calling it "against common sense", and said it would mean unacceptable actions - like setting up a sham company to manipulate Singaporeans' views on certain matters through fake commentaries - could fall outside the law.

Mr Shanmugam also responded to several other suggestions from the WP's Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) and Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC).

Associate Professor Lim had asked for a clause on clandestine publishing to be amended to remove the phrase "is likely to".

The Bill currently states that an offence is committed if a person publishes something in Singapore on behalf of a foreign entity to influence a target to do something that is or is likely to be prejudicial to Singapore's interests, incite feelings of hatred or diminish public confidence in the authorities.

Mr Shanmugam said the amendment means the prosecution would have to prove that the offender knew the action would be prejudicial to Singapore's interests, and it would not be enough to show that the offender would likely have known this.

This would not work as foreign entities could cover their tracks and the offender could then claim not to have known that the action would be prejudicial to Singapore's interests, he said.

"It's really like taking knives to a gunfight. Common sense is, if you had reason to believe that your actions are likely to prejudice Singapore's interests, and you are acting for a foreign agency, you are acting covertly, secretly, it should be an offence."

The minister similarly rejected other proposals by Prof Lim to raise the threshold for issuing directions under Fica such that a reasonable suspicion would not be sufficient for action to be taken, and conclusive proof or "actionable intelligence" would be required instead. He said intelligence can come in many forms and there is rarely a "smoking gun" in such cases.

Mr Perera had asked for the Bill to include a provision that the Government must maintain a publicly available registry of all PSPs and the reason for designating them as such. He also called for an obligation to make public the details of certain directives issued under Fica, and the reasons for issuing them.

Mr Shanmugam said the Government can agree to make public all designations of PSPs, stepped-up countermeasures and directives, with the exception of technical assistance directions, as it had already intended to do so.

These directions may require a social media platform or website operator to disclose information about a foreign entity, for example. Making this public risks tipping foreign entities off about the investigation, Mr Shanmugam said.

On Mr Perera's suggestion to include people with declared involvement in foreign policy organisations in the publicly-available registry, Mr Shanmugam said the authorities have to be mindful of making disclosures about citizens involved in these organisations as a substantial number of them may not be PSPs.

Mr Perera also asked for a publicly available list of reportable arrangements, or agreements, between a PSP and a foreign entity.

Mr Shanmugam said there was no need to publish such a list as the Bill already sets out the conditions under which arrangements are reportable, such as when a PSP is obliged to act in accordance with a foreign entity's instructions.







FICA's scope narrower than that of similar US, Australian laws on foreign agents, says Shanmugam
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

An American citizen who works for a multinational corporation, and meets a Congressman to advocate for a product made by his company, will have to be registered as a foreign agent under United States law.

Any former Commonwealth politician doing the same in Australia, including a former minister, MP or member of any political party, will also have to be registered under similar Australian laws.

These two scenarios, though, will not trigger such a registration requirement under Singapore's proposed Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament on Monday (Oct 4).

The US law covers people and organisations that are under control of a foreign government or outside of the US, while the Australian law covers government-related entities and individuals that have arrangements with foreign principals or undertake certain activities on their behalf.

Comparing Fica to the US' Foreign Agents Restriction Act or Fara, and Australia's Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme or Fits, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore has deliberately taken a much narrower definition of politically significant persons.

Under Fica, meant to counter foreign meddling in Singapore's affairs, a competent authority can designate other individuals and entities as politically significant persons if their activities are directed towards a political end and it is in the public interest that countermeasures be applied.

When it comes to hostile information campaigns, action can be taken if the minister assesses it is in the public interest to do so against Internet activity that is made on behalf of a foreign principal.
Public interest and proportionality

Mr Shanmugam said there is a high bar to cross for something to be deemed in the public interest, and it must be "necessary" or "expedient".

The actions taken to counter any hostile act must also be proportional, he added.

Noting that there has been some misrepresentation of Fica, he cited scenarios that would not be covered under the law.

For instance, open, non-clandestine collaboration between a Singaporean and any ordinary, private foreign citizen to improve any aspect of Singapore's laws and public policies, as well as local academics conducting research with foreign connections, will not come under Fica as long as they are bona fide.

"So the vast majority of collaborations, linkages will not meet the required conditions, and they will also not meet the requirement of proportionality," said the minister.

Referring to an example raised by Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC), he said that if a foreigner writes an article on controversial issues, using his own name, or clearly identifying as a foreigner, readers can assess the value, credibility and weight of the article.

In such a situation, the criterion of public interest would not be met.

Similarly, if the Economist magazine or New York Times merely publishes articles critical of Singapore, it will not be possible to invoke Fica.

However, if there is a basis to believe that these activities are undertaken as part of a hostile campaign or on behalf of a foreign agency targeting Singapore, then a Fica direction could be issued, subject to the test of proportionality, said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that newspapers and news wires, even legitimate ones, have often been use as a front for such activities, "so you cannot give a carte blanche exception".

Some academics have also raised concerns that presenting research at overseas conferences, writing for international journals and participating in international collaborative research projects may run afoul of the law, since any of these activities may be subsidised or fully funded by foreign universities, foundations and states.

Mr Shanmugam said on the face of it, none of the examples described will fit into Fica, though the assessment changes if "there is a step up to try and turn the person to an agent of influence, or there is an orchestrated campaign".

There have been some situations where academics have gone "into a different realm", he added, referring to the 2017 case of prominent Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy academic Huang Jing.

He had his permanent residency cancelled for working with a foreign government to sway public opinion and influence Singapore's foreign policy.

The vast majority of academic work will not fall under Fica, Mr Shanmugam said.

"Some of these doomsday scenarios - that Fica is a way to close off foreign collaborations - if that is correct, we as a government must have suddenly gone mad," he added. "In a country like Singapore which depends so much on the flow of ideas and international collaboration, is that even thinkable?"

On the issue of proportionality, Mr Shanmugam noted that the Attorney-General's Chambers has advised that the test is applicable to Fica, though some lawyers have expressed the view that it does not apply.

"This is the intent behind the legislative approach, which we are setting out clearly, for reference, so that if this Bill becomes law, and if it needs to be interpreted, it will be interpreted in the light of what the Government has said is the legislative intent, and how the phrases are intended to cover these things," said the minister.

Out of 10,000 interactions, there may only be one attempt of foreign interference in which foreign agencies and non-governmental organisations try to present a legitimate front, said Mr Shanmugam.

"So the language has got to be broad enough to cover that which is apparently normal, but is actually not normal," he said, noting that many governments face this difficulty.







Court process unsuitable for appeals under anti-foreign interference law: Shanmugam
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

Appeals against directions issued under a proposed law to counter foreign interference should be heard by an independent reviewing tribunal instead of the courts, to protect sensitive information, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

"For example, we may determine foreign interference based on a tip-off, sensitive information shared by a foreign counterpart security agency, and the consequences of a leak would be very serious," he told Parliament during the debate on the draft law on Monday (Oct 4).


Under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica), decisions made by the Minister for Home Affairs and the reviewing tribunal on appeals against directions to counter hostile information campaigns of foreign origin are final and not to be challenged in court.

The tribunal will be appointed by the President and chaired by a High Court judge. It is not part of the Singapore judicial system.

Workers' Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) had suggested amending the Bill to allow appeals to be made to the High Court instead of a tribunal.

Mr Shanmugam noted that the court process would require the Government to set out its case publicly, months in advance of a trial, and to enter documents into evidence. There is also a lengthy process of witnesses being asked to give evidence, cross-examination and time needed for judges to make a decision.

"Assume we get an intel tip-off from a foreign agency… Will we be able to get the intel contact to come to court? They will just not hear us, we won't even get a response, and that will be the end of the cooperation," Mr Shanmugam said.

"If we think the tip-off has some merit, we do our own investigations and then issue directions. If the person is not happy, he appeals to the tribunal."

Mr Shanmugam also made the point that documents and information filed in court can easily be leaked to the public. It also may not make sense to hand highly secret intelligence to suspects or their lawyers, he added.

He also cited other pieces of legislation in Singapore that, like Fica, provide for tribunals and limit the courts' power of judicial review for various reasons.

Orders and decisions issued under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), for example, are final and not subject to judicial review.

This is because the trial process may not be the best way to deal with religious issues, as it can deepen fault lines, encourage martyrdom and inflame tensions, the minister said.

Orders made under the MRHA can include restraining a person from addressing any congregation and contributing to any religious publication, among other things.

Orders can also be made against religious groups to prohibit them from receiving donations from foreign donors, require their entire governing body to be Singaporeans, or require them to suspend or remove specific foreigners from office.

"In some ways, these orders are more serious and what can be made under Fica. The religious groups were initially concerned. We talked to them, we explained, we showed how our powers have been exercised… and they understood and accepted it," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also cited the Land Acquisition Act, where the value of a person's property being acquired by the Government is determined by a tribunal and appeals are heard by an appeals board.

This is because Singapore, as a small country, needs the power to acquire land quickly, and not be tied up with the usual litigation process, he said.

Other laws like the Immigration Act and the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act contain similar provisions.

And under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA), which both provide for detention without trial, the rights of accused persons are protected and dealt with by tribunals.

In the case of Fica, Mr Shanmugam questioned if it would be possible to deal with cases of foreign interference through a normal court process.

"Often, we don't even name the countries involved. Can you imagine naming one of our neighbours in court, or a much larger country?" he said.

"When we asked (Chinese-American academic) Huang Jing to leave, we didn't say who he was acting for. Why? The foreign policy and national security implications are too serious."

Mr Shanmugam also acknowledged that there is a risk of Fica being abused by a rogue government.

But this has to be weighed against rogue foreign interference, which is a far greater risk, he said.

He noted that the tribunal's decisions will be published, the public will be able to assess cases of potential abuse for themselves.

"And ultimately, people have the final say. People won't stand for a rogue government."

The minister added that the other laws like the MRHA, the CLTPA and the Land Acquisition Act also carry the risk of abuse, but are necessary despite the trade-offs.

"(Fica) gives the Government a set of tools that can help. It is not a complete defence against foreign interference, but it can help," he said.

"The Bill represents the best balance that we can find between dealing with the risks and providing checks against abuse."







Singaporeans who join foreign political parties must declare under proposed law on foreign interference
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

A proposed law to tackle foreign interference in domestic politics would allow the Government to investigate the origins of certain social media accounts even before hostile information campaigns (HICs) are afoot.

Singaporeans who join political parties in other countries will also be required to declare their involvement in such organisations, under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica), which was debated in Parliament on Monday (Oct 4).


The Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) Ministers of State Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Desmond Tan gave these examples as they took MPs through the various provisions of the Bill in their speeches.

They also gave reassurances that Singaporeans expressing their own views will not be covered by Fica if they are not working with foreigners to affect public interest.

To tackle social media accounts that cultivate followings before switching the content they post during politically sensitive periods, the Bill provides for two specific directions - Technical Assistance Directions and Account Restriction Directions, said Dr Faishal.

Giving a scenario where these directions could apply, he described a set of accounts that amasses followers by first posting popular content on lifestyle matters, such as cute animal videos or funny memes.

Multiple accounts might act in coordination, he said. For instance, Account A actively tries to increase Account B's visibility by sharing its content.

These accounts then pivot to social and political commentaries, hoping to sway how Singaporeans vote or react to a foreign policy issue, he said, such as during election season or during a period of tension with another country.

If such activity is detected, a Technical Assistance Direction can be issued to investigate the origin of such accounts, said Dr Faishal.

If there is sufficient reason to believe that these are foreign accounts planning to undertake a HIC against Singapore, Account Restriction Directions can be issued to prevent them from reaching end users in Singapore, he said.

Threat actors who coordinate hostile information campaigns are improving their tactics all the time, therefore, the authorities cannot wait for harms to occur before taking action as severe damage could already have been done, he said.


Dr Faishal added that MHA will use these powers judiciously and will calibrate its actions based on the specifics of each case.

"In assessing whether an HIC is afoot, the primary determinant is the behaviour of the actor involved, and the entities behind the content.

"It is clear, therefore, that Singaporeans who are simply expressing their own views or engaging in the political process on their own accord are not covered."

Neither will the vast majority of communications involving foreigners, be it journalism, academia or online advocacy, be covered, he added.

Mr Tan said there might be instances where the Government will need to act even before an individual or organisation is designated a "politically significant person".

One of the countermeasures to do so is to require Singapore citizens to declare their involvement in foreign political or legislative bodies.

MHA recognises there may be innocuous instances where Singaporeans living abroad join foreign political bodies, such as political parties, out of their own personal interests, he said.

"However, this can nonetheless still pose a threat as such Singaporeans may be cultivated, approached or influenced, even unknowingly, and subsequently made use of to affect our local politics."

It is thus necessary to require them to disclose their involvement in such bodies, for transparency purposes, said Mr Tan.

He said that interactions such as academic research, business partnerships, creative collaborations, cultural exchanges will not be covered.

These types of activities and dealings will not be constrained in any way by the Bill, he said. "It will be business as usual as we know it for the vast majority of Singaporeans and residents in Singapore."







Legal powers in foreign interference law a necessity because of seriousness of threats: Shanmugam
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2021

As a young lawyer, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam believed the solution for every problem lay in the courts.

But his experience in the real world changed that, he said on Monday (Oct 4) in the debate on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica), which has been criticised for the limits it places on judicial review.

"I'm not embarrassed to say those were my views, and those views have changed because of the realities of life," Mr Shanmugam said. "Not because I became a minister, but because over time - long before I became a minister - I saw how laws are meant to operate and where the exceptions have to be made."

Fica was mooted as a bulwark against foreign interference in Singapore. Under the law, an independent tribunal chaired by a High Court judge will review appeals against directions issued to counter hostile information campaigns of foreign origin.

Decisions made by the Minister for Home Affairs and the reviewing tribunal are final and not to be challenged in court, so as to protect sensitive information.

But Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh brought up several issues the Workers' Party had with the Act, including the limits on judicial review.

He observed that Mr Shanmugam himself had expressed similar concerns more than 30 years ago, as a backbencher speaking on topics such as the Internal Security Act. Measures can be taken to minimise the likelihood of leaks, Mr Singh said.

"If I can find a better model, I will be the first one to do it," Mr Shanmugam replied, adding that the legal powers provided for under Fica are necessary given the threats Singapore faces.

Mr Singh also asked why the Bill was not put forth for public consultation, citing comments made by Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo earlier this year on how the public has a role to play in shaping measures to guard against foreign interference.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said the Government has been engaged in extensive consultations on this topic in the past three years. But as Singapore will face an attack at some point, more needs to be done to bring society together, he added.

"This is not the end. It's the beginning... There is a long haul ahead of us, and the public has to be involved in that."

Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan also addressed concerns that Mr Singh raised over how Fica might affect civil activism in Singapore.

Non-governmental organisations designated as politically significant entities will not automatically have foreign funding stripped from them, he said, but they will have to declare where the funding is coming from.

Mr Shanmugam's speech also drew comments from other members of the opposition, including Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai.

Mr Leong called again for the Bill's passage to be postponed and asked if Fica is really needed, given Singapore's existing laws.

He also asked why the Bill cannot make allowances for judicial review, given that this is provided for in other countries even on issues of national security, and asked for examples of "Asian countries" where foreign interference has been a problem.

"As an ordinary citizen, watching the TV and all that, all the foreign interference in Taiwan and Australia for example, seems to be a joke," he added.

Mr Shanmugam took issue with Mr Leong's understanding of Fica, adding that there have been reports of foreign-inspired attacks on Asian countries.

On the topic of why Singapore has chosen to do differently from other countries in limiting judicial review, the minister said there are trade-offs to all such choices, as other countries have learnt to their detriment.










Anti-foreign interference Bill already has proportionality requirement, similar to POFMA: MHA
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2021

The proposed law to counter foreign interference already contains a requirement for orders issued under it to be proportionate, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Sunday (Oct 3).

The ministry was responding to Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal who said in a Facebook post on Saturday that the language of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (Fica) "sets an extremely low bar for the public interest requirement to be met".

"The Bill simply requires that the minister form the opinion that it is in the public interest to exercise his powers. As drafted, the Bill does not require that the opinion be reasonably held, or that the specific Fica orders that are issued be proportionate," Mr Singh added.

The ministry said this was untrue, adding that the Bill incorporates proportionality into its public interest requirement.

"The statutory test of 'public interest' stipulates that it should be necessary or expedient in the public interest to use those powers," MHA said.


The ministry also said the same issue arose two years ago in relation to the law on fake news - the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) - that imposes a similar requirement for its "public interest" test.

Mr Singh had similarly called for the addition of a "proportionality" requirement in Pofma, ahead of the Parliamentary debate on it, MHA said.

"He was corrected by a senior counsel, Mr Siraj Omar, who pointed out, in relation to Pofma, that 'a close reading of the Bill suggests that such a requirement already exists'."

MHA quoted Mr Omar as having said: "The (Pofma) Bill states… that an act is in the 'public interest' if it is 'necessary or expedient' in pursuance of various stipulated objectives. This added constraint of necessity or expediency essentially embeds an assessment of proportionality into the analysis."

The Law Ministry (MinLaw) had also pointed this out to Mr Singh in a public letter published in The Straits Times on May 2, 2019, and MinLaw had also explained why Pofma's definitions were workable and invited Mr Singh to come up with better definitions for it to consider, MHA said.

"When MinLaw spoke with Mr Singh again, he said that his original commentary on Pofma had acknowledged the need for wide definitions, including of 'public interest', to address the risks posed to the national interest."

MHA said Fica adopts the same requirements of necessity or expedience in its definition of public interest, similar to Pofma.

Fica targets foreign interference in domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and local proxies.

It grants MHA powers to issue directions compelling Internet platforms to block accounts, and to require politically significant people to declare foreign affiliations, among others.


Mr Singh had also expressed his concerns over Fica in an opinion piece for ST last Tuesday. MHA responded to the piece in a letter to ST on Saturday.

The ministry said its letter had given Mr Singh "the benefit of doubt" and assumed he may not have read the Bill carefully.

It added: "If he did read it (as he now asserts), then in the context of the above facts, readers can draw their own conclusions on Mr Singh's reasons for making inaccurate assertions - which he himself must know were inaccurate."

Fica will be debated when Parliament sits on Monday. A petition seeking greater scrutiny of the draft law has been submitted on behalf of civil society groups by Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai.

























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Countering Foreign Interference -Ministry of Home Affairs

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