10 February 2023
The Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2022, which amends the Broadcasting Act 1994 and the Electronic Transactions Act 2010 to enhance online safety for users in Singapore through measures to tackle harmful content on online services, has come into operation on 1 February 2023.
Regulation of providers of online communication services
A new Part 10A has been introduced in the Broadcasting Act 1994 to regulate providers of online communication services (“OCSs”) to Singapore end-users. OCSs are electronic services that allow end-users to access or communicate content via the Internet. The new Part 10A will only apply to specified types of OCSs which are listed in the Fourth Schedule to the Broadcasting Act 1994.
At present, only one type of OCS is specified in the Fourth Schedule, namely social media services (“SMSs”). An SMS refers to an electronic service whose sole or primary purpose is to enable online interaction or linking between two or more end-users, including enabling end-users to share content for social purposes, and which allows end-users to communicate content on the service.
There are two key aspects to the regulatory approach:
- Requiring providers of OCSs with significant reach or impact to comply with Codes of Practice (“COPs”); and
- Dealing with egregious content on OCSs.
Requiring OCSs with significant reach or impact to comply with COPs
The Info-communications Media Development Authority (“IMDA”) may designate an OCS with significant reach or impact in Singapore as a regulated online communication service (“ROCS”) and require ROCS providers to comply with COPs. The COPs may require ROCS providers to put in place measures on their services to mitigate the risks of danger to Singapore end-users from exposure to harmful content and provide accountability to their end-users on such measures.
In October 2022, IMDA issued a draft Code of Practice for Online Safety (“draft Code”) which was developed after an extensive study of international online safety legislation as well as proposals, and engagements with major SMSs in Singapore. The draft Code sets out obligations that designated SMSs have to meet to enhance online safety for Singapore end-users and curb the spread of harmful content on their service. IMDA has also issued accompanying draft Guidelines on Categories of Harmful Content which provide examples of harmful/inappropriate content. IMDA will further consult SMSs before finalising and issuing the Code of Practice for Online Safety.
Every ROCS provider has a duty to take all reasonably practicable steps to comply with the COP applicable to it. An ROCS provider which fails to do so may be ordered by IMDA to pay a financial penalty, or be directed to take steps to remedy the failure.
Dealing with egregious content on an OCS
If IMDA is satisfied that any egregious content provided on an OCS can be accessed by Singapore end-users, IMDA can issue directions to the OCS provider to disable access to the egregious content by Singapore end-users, and stop the egregious content from being transmitted to Singapore end-users via other channels or accounts. However, due to privacy concerns, such directions cannot be issued in respect of communications that are of a private or domestic nature.
Egregious content is defined to include content that advocates or instructs on suicide or self-harm, physical or sexual violence and terrorism, content depicting child sexual exploitation, content advocating conduct that results in a public health risk in Singapore, and content likely to cause racial and religious disharmony in Singapore.
IMDA is also empowered to issue a direction to an Internet access service provider to stop access by Singapore end-users to egregious content on an OCS where the OCS provider fails to comply with IMDA’s directions. This ensures that egregious content on the OCS would not be accessible by Singapore end-users.
Every provider of an OCS or an Internet access service to whom a direction has been issued has a duty to take all reasonably practicable steps to comply with the direction. Non-compliance with a direction by IMDA constitutes a criminal offence, punishable with a fine.