Singapore

Laws to be updated to fight fake news and cyber hacking: Minister

Singapore developing dual strategies to deal with foreign interference in local politics, says senior minister of state

When Singapore's dispute with Malaysia over maritime and airspace issues late last year was top news, there was a "curious" spike in online comments critical of the Republic on social media, said Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong.

These posts were made using what were essentially anonymous accounts, Mr Tong said in Parliament yesterday. He added that on the issue of traffic jams at land checkpoints, these "avatar accounts", which have profile photos that do not show the user's face, account for about 40 per cent of comments on the alternative media's social media pages.

This shows how foreign actors can interfere in Singapore's politics through online campaigns and false information, he said. Steps are being taken to update the laws to counter such threats, he added.

As for the case of the Singapore-Malaysia dispute, Mr Tong said: "We do not know who these suspicious accounts belong to. Nor do we know if they are being coordinated by foreign actors. But it is clear that these accounts have sought to give and create an artificial impression to netizens of the opposition to Singapore's position, at a time of heightened bilateral difficulties."

Mr Tong was replying to Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), who asked if there had been instances of foreign interference in Singapore.

He pointed to last year's SingHealth hacking incident, saying the attackers - who are advanced and typically state-linked - wanted to extract the health data of Singaporeans, including that of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"Cyber hackings are often deployed in concert with hostile information campaigns to search for information that can be weaponised," he added.

To ward off foreign interference in local politics and elections, Singapore is developing a strategy on two fronts.

Firstly, to sensitise Singaporeans to the threat and nurture a discerning public, he said.

Secondly, the legal framework will be updated and enhanced to counter hostile information campaigns.

Mr Tong said the new laws have two broad objectives.

One, to let the Government "act swiftly and effectively to disrupt and counter false, misleading and inauthentic information and narratives spread by foreign actors".

"We must also be able to pre-emptively expose clandestine foreign interference campaigns," he added.

Two, to prevent foreign actors from manipulating politically involved individuals and organisations through the use of proxies, funding and donations.

FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES TODAY

COURT & CRIME