Knowledge Highlights 10 October 2019

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 (“Act”) and the following subsidiary legislation came into operation on 2 October 2019:

  • Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Regulations 2019
  • Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (Exemption from Sections 21(2)(a) and (b) and 22(2)(a)) Order 2019
  • Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (Internet Intermediaries and Digital Advertising Intermediaries - Temporary Exemptions) Order 2019
  • Supreme Court of Judicature (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation) Rules 2019
  • Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Amendment of Fifth Schedule) Order 2019

The Act aims primarily to prevent the electronic communication of false statements of fact (“falsehoods”) in Singapore and enable measures to be taken to counteract the effects of such communication. A new Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act Office (“POFMA Office”) within the Info-communications Media Development Authority (“IMDA”) has been established as the Competent Authority to administer the Act. There is also a new POFMA Office website which has been set up: www.pofmaoffice.gov.sg.

In summary: 

  1. The Act applies to persons who communicate a falsehood, persons who assist by providing financing, etc., and service providers or intermediaries whose services are used to communicate the falsehood. 
  2. It is an offence to communicate in Singapore a statement knowing or having reason to believe that such statement is a falsehood and is likely to lead to public interest concerns. 
  3. It is also an offence to make or alter a bot with the intention of using it to communicate in Singapore a falsehood or enabling another person to do so. 
  4. A person communicating a falsehood can be directed to put up a correction notice or to stop communicating the falsehood. Non-compliance is an offence. 
  5. Internet intermediaries can be directed to put up correction notices or disable access to the falsehood. Prescribed internet intermediaries and providers of mass media services can also be directed to put up general correction notices. Non-compliance is an offence.
  6. Prescribed internet intermediaries can be directed to take steps to counteract inauthentic online accounts and coordinated inauthentic behaviour. Non-compliance is an offence. 
  7. Online locations that repeatedly spread falsehoods can be subject to a declaration and subject to additional measures (including cutting off its ability to profit). 
  8. Service providers, digital advertising intermediaries and other prescribed intermediaries must take reasonable steps to ensure that advertisements are not shown in Singapore on the declared online location (“DOL”) and that advertisements in Singapore do not promote the DOL. The list of DOLs are available on the POFMA Office website. Compliance is automatic - i.e. not dependent on the issuance of an order or direction. Non-compliance is an offence. 
  9. The Act provides for a right to apply to the Minister to vary or cancel directions, or to suspend, vary or cancel a declaration of an online location. 
  10. If the application to vary or cancel the direction or declaration is refused by the Minister, there is a right to appeal to the High Court (exercisable only within 14 days after the Minister’s decision). 
  11. An internet access service provider may be ordered to disable access by end-users in Singapore to an online location or a DOL. 
  12. The POFMA Office has issued the following Codes of Practice (available on the POFMA Office website) which apply only to prescribed digital advertising and internet intermediaries:

(Please click on the relevant titles to read further)

Background

The Act is part of a multi-pronged, whole-of-nation response recommended by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods - Causes, Consequences and Countermeasures (“Select Committee”) to disrupt online falsehoods. By way of background, the Select Committee was appointed by Parliament in January 2018 to study the problem of deliberate online falsehoods and to recommend how Singapore should respond. Chaired by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mr Charles Chong, the Select Committee consisted of nine Members of Parliament including the current Senior Minister of State for Law and Health, Mr Edwin Tong, SC who was a Partner of Allen & Gledhill during the Select Committee hearings. Allen & Gledhill Partner and Head of Intellectual Property Practice, Dr Stanley Lai, SC, also gave evidence before the Select Committee.

On 8 May 2019, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill was passed in Parliament.

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