28 February 2024

On 1 February 2024, provisions in the Online Criminal Harms Act 2023 (“Act”) relating to the following measures, which allow the Singapore Government to deal more effectively with online activities that are criminal in nature, came into operation:

  • Powers to issue directions to online services to restrict the exposure of Singapore users to criminal activities on their platforms;
  • Powers to give orders to limit further exposure to the criminal activities being conducted on the platforms of non-compliant online services; and
  • Powers to require information to administer the Act and facilitate investigations and criminal proceedings.

The provisions in the Act relating to codes of practice and directives to strengthen partnership with online services to counter scams and malicious cyber activities will come into force at a later stage.

By way of background, the Online Criminal Harms Bill was passed in Parliament on 5 July 2023. For more about the Bill, please read our article titled “Online Criminal Harms Bill passed to enable authorities to deal more effectively with criminal online activities”.

The Act allows designated officers to issue directions (“Directions”) to any online service provider, entity, or individual, when there is reasonable suspicion that an online activity is in furtherance of the commission of a specified offence. There are five types of Directions that may be issued under the Act depending on the facts of the case:

  • Stop communication direction: This requires the recipient of the direction to stop communicating specified online content (including substantially similar content) to people in Singapore. The recipients of the direction are persons and entities who communicated such online content.
  • Disabling direction: This requires online service providers to disable specified content (e.g. a post or page) on their service from the view of people in Singapore, which may include identical copies of the content.
  • Account restriction direction: This requires online service providers to stop an account on their service from communicating in Singapore and/or interacting with people in Singapore, such as by terminating, suspending or restricting functionalities of the service in relation to the account.
  • Access blocking direction: This requires internet service providers to block access to an online location such as a web domain from the view of people in Singapore.
  • App removal direction: This requires app stores to remove an app from its Singapore storefront to stop further downloads of the app by people in Singapore.

Given the speed and scale of scams and malicious cyber activity and the potential to inflict great harm on victims, the Act provides a lower threshold for issuing Directions when there is suspicion or reason to believe that any online activity is preparatory to, or in furtherance of, the commission of a scam or malicious cyber activity offence.

Should an online service not comply with the Directions, the competent authority appointed under section 3 of the Act may issue an order to restrict access to the service or part of the service, to limit the further exposure of persons in Singapore to the criminal activity.

Reference materials 

The Ministry of Home Affairs published a press release dated 30 January 2024 on its website www.mha.gov.sg about the partial commencement of the Act.

The Act and following related subsidiary legislation are available on Singapore Statutes Online sso.agc.gov.sg: