Singapore Moves to Restrict Communication in Terrorism Incident Areas

April 23, 2018

In light of increasing terror threats, authorities have implemented a series of new laws to enhance Singapore’s ability to respond to large-scale public disorders and situations involving public safety. A recently proposed law would prohibit disseminating information from the location of a terrorism incident.

To equip the authorities with greater powers to combat terror threats, the Singapore Parliament passed the new Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill at the parliamentary sitting on 21 March 2018. The new Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act (Act) will give security forces in Singapore extended powers in dealing with incidents involving serious violence or large-scale public disorder.

A key feature of the Act is the Communications Stop Order (CSO), which will prohibit the making, exhibiting, or communicating of information about ongoing security operations. The CSO can be issued by the Commissioner of Police, with authorisation from the Minister of Home Affairs. Once a CSO is issued, journalists and members of the public will be prohibited from taking pictures and films of the location of the incident and from disseminating them. The CSO is broad enough to also ban the exhibiting or communicating of text and audio messages regarding ongoing security operations at the incident location. Violating the CSO may result in a fine of up to S$20,000 (about $15,104) or imprisonment of up to two years, or both.

The new regulations on the CSO were prompted by terror attacks overseas, such as those in Mumbai in 2008 and Paris in 2015, where live broadcasts of security operations allowed terrorists to anticipate police action. The enactment of the CSO is to provide the authorities with the ability to curb unofficial recordings of security incidents which may compromise the effectiveness of security operations.

Journalists and media outlets, particularly independent media correspondents and international newswires, should take note of this development which may restrict their ability to film and publish reports during the CSO.