The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021, or Fica, is a statute of the Parliament of Singapore. Enacted in 2021, it seeks to “protect the public interest by counteracting acts of foreign interference”. The Bill was introduced on 13 September 2021 and passed on 4 October 2021.
Legislation targeting foreign influence in Singapore had been mooted in as early as 2017. In March 2021, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo announced that the government was considering the use of “legislative levers” to combat foreign influence.
The act grants the Minister for Home Affairs the authority to investigate individuals suspected of being foreign agents engaged in “hostile information campaigns”. An independent panel, chaired by a judge, will consider appeals against the minister’s findings, although persons marked as “political significant” will not be allowed to file such appeals. Authorities will also be allowed to compel social media platforms and website operators to hand over user data, without any justification in select instances.
The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill was passed in Parliament on 4 October 2021. The Bill will strengthen our ability to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in our domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and the use of local proxies. Here are three things you should know about the Bill.
1. Singapore’s politics are for us to decide
The Bill is driven by the philosophy that Singapore’s politics are for Singaporeans to deal with. This is especially important given the modern ease of communications, increased interactions and travel have allowed spying and subversion to increase in scope and intensity.
2. Subversion is a serious global issue
Foreign states could use hostile information campaigns to polarise society and incite public disorder, keeping the target country in a constant state of turmoil..
The Internet has also created a powerful new medium for subversion, with countries actively developing their attack capabilities. New communication tools have facilitated non-kinetic forms of attack and make hostile information campaigns harder to detect. For example, bots and digital ads can easily be bought to spread harmful information. Foreign actors can also blend their activities with those of authentic online users, giving audiences in the target country a false sense of reality.
3. Singapore’s situation is easily exploitable
Singapore’s unique racial and religious mix is easily exploitable by other countries. In recent times, Singapore has been subjected to cyber attacks and cyber manipulation. Such campaigns seek to build up different narratives, conditioning people to think in certain ways, particularly on foreign policy issues, and often appealing to a larger racial identity, beyond the Singaporean identity.
Recent examples of cyber attacks include the hacking campaign in 2018 that targeted SingHealth’s databases and saw hackers stealing the personal particulars of 1.5 million patients, including those of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Between 2016 and 2017, Singapore also experienced a coordinated hostile information campaign that attempted to undermine our foreign policy position. Online commentaries and videos were uploaded by social media accounts which had lain dormant for many years.
Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill
The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill will strengthen our ability to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in our domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and the use of local proxies.
Singapore’s ‘foreign interference’ law will weaken people power
There are already signs the law will be used to divide civil society and cast a dark shadow over internationalism.
- Kokila Annamalai
Community organiser, writer, researcher, cultural worker and pro-democracy activist based in Singapore
Published On 18 Oct 202118 Oct 2021
When the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill, or Fica, was tabled in Singapore’s Parliament on September 13, local activists were watching closely. We were anxious that it would – like laws that came before it – grant the state excessive powers that further threaten our civil liberties and suffocate what little space is left for critical political engagement in Singapore. Our fears were not unfounded – Fica allows the government to police, prohibit or criminalise almost all communication and collaboration with non-Singaporeans on social and political issues.
The most severe penalties under Fica are a fine of up to 100,000 Singapore dollars ($74,000) and/or imprisonment for up to 14 years. This makes it more potent in chilling political activism than other laws that have been used to persecute dissidents in recent years.
Over the past few years, Singapore has been tightening restrictions on non-Singaporean participation in progressive social movements. Amendments to the Public Order Act in 2016 meant that Pink Dot, Singapore’s annual Pride rally, was banned from receiving sponsorships from foreign-registered companies or having foreigners attend the event.