Online Criminal Harms Act to kick in from Feb 1, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Online Criminal Harms Act to kick in from Feb 1

The Online Criminal Harms Act (Ocha) will come into effect on Feb 1, and will allow the Government to remove criminal content online.

The Act, which was passed in Parliament on July 5, 2023, seeks to tackle the evolving criminal harms online and makes special provisions for scams and malicious cyber activities.

Under Ocha, the Government can issue directions and orders, which will restrict and limit the exposure of Singapore users to criminal activities on online platforms.

Directions can be issued to any online service provider, entity or individual, as long as there is reasonable suspicion that an online activity is linked to a specified offence.

Examples of specified offences include those relating to terrorism and internal security, racial and religious harmony, drugs, violence and scams.

The threshold is lower for scams, allowing directions to be issued even if there is only suspicion that certain online activities are in preparation of a scam.

On Jan 30, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said this was so that scams can be proactively disrupted, even before the public falls prey to them.

There were 22,339 scam cases reported in the first half of 2023, as compared to 13,576 cases in the same period in 2022.

Between January 2020 and June 2023, victims in Singapore lost about $2 billion to scams.

There are five types of directions that can be issued under Ocha.

A Stop Communication direction requires the recipient, which can be an individual or an entity, to stop communicating the specified online content to people in Singapore.

A Disabling direction requires online service providers to disable specified content, such as a post or a page, on their service from being viewed in Singapore.

An Account Restriction direction requires online service providers to stop an account on their platform from communicating in Singapore and interacting with people in Singapore.

An Access Blocking direction requires internet service providers to block access to an online location such as a web domain from being viewed here.

And an App Removal Direction requires app stores to remove an app from its Singapore storefront to stop further downloads of the app by people here.

MHA said for a start, Ocha directions will be issued against scam websites and egregious online activities, as it develops the necessary systems for it to issue directions for other specified offences.

Examples of egregious offences include those related to threat of death and serious hurt, and threat to law-and-order.

If the directions are not complied with, an Ocha order can then be issued to restrict access to the service or part of the service, to limit the further exposure of persons in Singapore to the criminal activity.

MHA said the Ocha orders operate alongside other measures the Government can take for the non-compliance of directions, and does not replace measures such as prosecution.

Those who receive an Ocha direction can appeal to a designated officer for it to be reconsidered, while those who receive an Ocha order can appeal to the competent authority.

If these applications are unsuccessful, the appellant can then appeal to a reviewing tribunal comprising a District Judge or Magistrate appointed by the President, on the advice of the Cabinet.

Under Ocha, the Government can require information to administer the Act and facilitate investigations and criminal proceedings.

Police officers and enforcement officers can request online service providers or owners of online locations to provide relevant information to facilitate investigations and criminal proceedings when it is suspected a specified offence has been committed.

These powers also apply to entities based overseas and to information stored overseas.

MHA said the Act will introduce codes of practice and directives to strengthen partnerships with online services to counter scams and malicious cyber activities, but this will come into force at a later date.