Proposed bill to beef up police powers in terror attacks
Proposed changes to public order law will empower police to do this if such images may undermine security operations
Recording images during a terrorist attack or a large-scale public disorder could soon be illegal, if a new Bill tabled in Parliament yesterday is passed.
Citing two previous incidents overseas, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday that broadcasting such footage could undermine security operations during these incidents.
The Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) (Posspa) Bill aims to give the police enhanced powers to better deal with serious security incidents.
This includes a communications stop order, which the Commissioner of Police can issue when authorised by the Home Affairs Minister.
The order stops people - including journalists and members of the public - from making or communicating images of the incident area for a period of time.
They are also not allowed to communicate text or audio messages about ongoing security operations.
"Denying the terrorists access to information on the police's ongoing tactical operations to neutralise the attack is critical for the success of the operations," MHA said in a statement.
Offenders could face a fine of up to $20,000 and/or up to two years' jail.
Given the seriousness of this order, MHA said it is a "special power" that will be used only when "the security situation calls for it".
MHA noted that during the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, live media broadcasts of security forces at work allowed terrorists to anticipate their actions, which is a situation that Singapore wants to avoid.
In January 2015, a lone terrorist holding several hostages in a Paris deli could monitor live television broadcasts of police officers preparing to storm the supermarket, thereby anticipating their next moves.
"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," MHA said.
Posspa will also empower police officers to take down or disable any unmanned aircraft and autonomous vehicles, as well as vehicles in and around the incident area.
The law currently allows the police to only take down such vehicles that "clearly" pose a threat to public safety and security.
"Such unmanned aircraft and autonomous vehicles and vessels can be used for surveillance by the terrorists or even as weapons," said the MHA.
These two powers will enable the police to protect the secrecy of its operations.
Posspa will adapt provisions from the current Public Order (Preservation) Act (Popa), which was enacted in 1958 and will be repealed by the new legislation, which the MHA hopes will become law by year-end.
Posspa will also enable the police to direct building owners within the incident area to take certain actions, such as closing their premises, restricting entry and exit, and to provide police with any helpful information, such as the floor plans of their buildings.
The police will also be empowered to stop and question people in the incident area to obtain information.
Posspa builds on the momentum of other Bills passed by Parliament to combat the mounting threat of terrorism here.
The Infrastructure Protection Bill was passed last October to better protect key places, following the Public Order (Amendment) Bill to beef up security at large-scale public events last April.
Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, called the Bill a "good move" to prevent greater loss of life and property during a terrorist attack.
He told The New Paper: "With the increase in terrorist threats, governments are developing legislation to address the challenges."