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Second Reading Speech by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, on the Protection from Harassment Bill

Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses

View the Press Release here.

View videos on Protection from Harassment Act 2014 here.


Madam Speaker,


1.                     I beg to move, ‘That the Bill be now read a second time’.


I.                      THE CONTEXT


2.                     Let me start with the social context we have today which has led to this Bill.


3.                     Harassment can take place anywhere, and in any form.


4.                     Sexual harassment has been an issue.  It can take place within and outside the workplace.


5.                     Stalking conduct: iIt can be following a person, loitering near a person’s office or residence, repeatedly trying to contact a person by calling him or her, sending SMS-es, emails and so on. Basically trying to impose unwanted communication on another person to try and get that person’s attention.


6.                     Harassment can take place in the physical space and in the online space. 

  

7.                     Cyber space makes harassment easier, and in some ways, more egregious, because it is anonymous, borderless, viral and permanent.


8.                     Late last year, REACH commissioned a study involving more than 1,000 Singapore residents above the age of 15.


9.                     More than 80 per cent of those surveyed felt online harassment to be a serious issue.


10.                  The survey had a margin of error of three per cent. 


11.                  These findings correspond with the very grave instances of harassment being reported.


12.                  The instances are far too numerous.


13.                  I have summarized a few cases as an illustration.


14.                  In one case, an online netizen impersonated a doctor and posted provocative and offensive comments in her name on Facebook.


15.                  No one waited to see if what was posted was true. The doctor did not get to defend herself. Allegations were swiftly followed by attacks. Many netizens harshly criticised the doctor for the comments. Some online netizens even uncovered her personal information and posted photos of her online. Is that fair and acceptable?


16.                  In another case, cyberbullies targeted the baby of a blogger. The blogger had given birth prematurely because there was a life-threatening condition during the pregnancy. Cyberbullies called her baby an ‘alien’. They said the baby should be euthanised. This was really quite sickening behaviour. It comes from basic bullying instincts of some, unchecked by any notion of civil conduct, and aided by anonymity.


17.                  Comments like these go beyond what any decent human being would consider to be free speech.


18.                  I have also been receiving emails from members of the public after news of this Bill came out.


19.                  Majority of them are women, recounting their personal experiences and welcoming the Bill.


20.                  One writer described her harrowing experience with a fellow colleague. After she rejected his advances, this colleague began spreading rumours about her at the workplace. He said she was a lesbian, and was a loose woman. This caused the writer to feel very harassed for several years – and of course her colleagues reacted negatively towards her. Despite all that, the writer did not leave her job as she needed to support her family.


21.                  Another writer feared for her safety as her employer, who was the harasser, had a violent temper.


22.                  A third writer told us that she was a victim of harassment and stalking from about 5 years ago and that her life has never been the same since. She continues to be traumatised until today.

 

23.                  The writers went through serious trauma and that left indelible marks in their lives.

 

24.                  Bullying amongst our youth is also a serious issue. 

 

[And by the way those writers have given me permission to have redacted copies of their e-mails circulated and I will do so at the end of my speech. These are redacted to remove personal particulars and also some other information that they have set out]

 

25.                  Coming back to bullying amongst our youth, a recent Microsoft Study surveyed 25 countries on the issue of bullying amongst youth aged 8 to 17. 

 

26.                  According to the study, 86 per cent of those surveyed had experienced bullying online, offline or both.

 

27.                  The situation in Singapore is unfortunately reflective of the global trend.

 

28.                  83 per cent of youth in Singapore aged 8 to 17 have been bullied, either online, offline or both.

 

29.                  Unfortunately, as well, Singapore was found to have the second highest rate of online bullying of youths (58 per cent), behind only China (70 per cent).

 

30.                  The Straits Times ran a report last month highlighting that our children are particularly vulnerable to cyber risks.

 

31.                  According to the report, more than 8 out of 10 households are connected to the Internet.

 

32.                  Activities such as web-surfing, chatting online, posting on social media networks have become commonplace especially for our young.

 

33.                  With these come the increased risks of cyber bullying, whether as a bully or as a victim.

 

34.                  In schools we are familiar with the kinds of bullying that take place – name-calling, inappropriate jokes, intimidating behaviour, and the like.

 

35.                  Bullying of children by other children can scar – both the bully and bullied – for life. 

 

36.                  Worse, bullying of children can also lead to devastating consequences.

 

37.                  Again this is a worldwide trend, with increasing frequency. I will use three examples to illustrate what is happening.

 

(a)                   In the UK, 14 year old Hannah Smith hanged herself last year after weeks of taunting by anonymous cyber bullies. She received messages telling her to kill herself.

 

(b)                   In the US, 11 year old Michael Morones fell into a coma following a failed suicide attempt, after being bullied by his classmates for liking a cartoon titled “My Little Pony”, with a predominantly young, female audience.

 

(c)                   In Canada, 17 year old Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide.  This was after photographs of an alleged sexual assault against her went viral on the Internet.

 

 A.        Practices in Other Jurisdictions 


38.                  What can be done to better protect our society?

 

39.                  We looked at what other jurisdictions have done or are doing.

 

40.                  Our concerns with harassment in Singapore are reflective of those in other countries, across cultures, both East and West, developed and developing.

 

41.                  Many of these countries have responded with strict legislation to combat harassment.

 

42.                  The UK, New Zealand, South Africa have standalone Harassment legislation.

 

43.                  In 2012, the UK introduced a specific offence of stalking to strengthen its laws.

 

44.                  Last year, Nova Scotia enacted the Cyber-Safety Act in response to Rehtaeh Parson’s tragic death, which I referred to earlier.

 

45.                  Last month, Italian lawmakers called for laws against cyberbullying, after a 14 year old girl jumped to her death because of abuse on a social networking site.

 

B.        Feedback on Practices in Singapore 

 

46.                  In Singapore, we have been getting consistent feedback that our laws are inadequate.

 

47.                  The Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (“MOA”) makes harassment a criminal offence.

 

48.                  However, the way the law has been interpreted by the Courts, it is not clear if it would apply to harassment online.

 

49.                  We also have other legislation e.g. the Women’s Charter and Moneylenders Act.

 

50.                  But these are specific – harassment in the context of family violence or unlicensed moneylending – rather than covering general harassing conduct.

 

51.                  For example the harassment of an ex-girlfriend will not be caught by the Women’s Charter. 

 

52.                  The Institute of Policy Studies organised a conference in November last year.

 

53.                  It was attended by legal professionals, educators, social workers and civic groups, including NGOs like AWARE.

 

54.                  It gave us a good sense of what professionals actively dealing with the issues thought. This was in addition to the survey which showed that 85 % of the  public wanted tougher legislation to deal with harassment. 

 

55.                  The many people we consulted over several rounds of closed consultations, both before the conference, as well as after the conference, including victims of harassment and those who worked to help these victims, all took the same view: That we need clear, strong legislation.

 

56.                  My own initial thinking and my Ministry’s thinking was actually to adopt an incremental approach to reforming our law on harassment by tweaking existing legislation, for example making amendments to the MOA.

 

57.                  At the conference however, we witnessed a clear and overwhelming consensus for a standalone omnibus Protection from Harassment Act.

 

58.                  Participants, including AWARE, told us that this would send a clear signal that harassment is a social scourge that our society will not and should not tolerate.

 

59.                  And the fact is that our existing civil remedies and self-help avenues are also limited.

 

60.                  The High Court’s recent decision in AXA Insurance [Singapore Pte Ltd v Chandran s/o Natesan [2013] 4 SLR 545] and its earlier decision in Malcomson [Nicholas Hugh Bertram and another v Mehta Naresh Kumar [2001] 3 SLR(R) 379] cast doubt as to whether one can even bring a civil action for harassment in Singapore.

 

61.                  Other forms of private action, e.g. nuisance, assault, battery and so on also have obvious limitations.

 

II.                   MAIN AIMS OF THE BILL

 

62.                  Since we discussed the possibility of legislation on Harassment, there has been very significant public interest and support for such legislation. 

 

63.                  I had asked my officers to list the commentaries, articles which have discussed the issue of harassment and cyber-bullying since October last year.

 

64.                  They have prepared a non-exhaustive list, which I will have circulated.

 

65.                  There is clearly a real need to better protect victims of harassment.

 

66.                  And indeed I went through the list of articles which have been appearing in the media, and just in the last four months, they have had nearly two hundred articles in the media on harassment.

 

67.                  This shows the extent of public interest, the awareness, the range of people impacted, the extent to which this is a matter of public concern, and shows that, as I said earlier - not today but outside Parliament - we are probably a little behind the curve in dealing with this. 

 

68.                  The proposed criminal and civil measures in the Bill do precisely what we hope to do. 

 

69.                  Standards of acceptable behavior should be the same in the physical world and in the online sphere.

 

70.                  I will now take the House through the main features of the Bill.

 

III.                 OVERVIEW OF THE BILL

 

71.                  There are three main parts to the Bill.

 

(a)                   Part II of the Bill deals with the criminal offences.

 

(b)                   Part III of the Bill deals with self-help and civil remedies.

 

(c)                   The remaining provisions address a range of matters governing actions and proceedings under the Bill, including extraterritorial application of the Bill.

 

IV.                  PART II OF THE BILL – CRIMINAL RESPONSES

 

72.                  Let me first deal with the criminal sanctions.

 

73.                  Clauses 3 to 6 re-enact and update sections 13A to 13D of the MOA respectively. And therefore sections 13A to 13D of the MOA will be repealed once this Bill goes through.

 

74.                  Clauses 3, 4, 5 and 6, which deal with harassment are in fact taken from the MOA with some minor changes. The penalties are increased quite substantively.  

 

75.                  There are five aspects to highlight.


A.        Medium Neutral


76.                  First, the Bill makes clear that harassment and related anti-social behaviour are offences, whether committed in the physical world or online.

 

77.                  That must be so. It must be the consequences of the conduct, not where and how that conduct was carried out.

 

78.                  Clauses 3 to 6 are medium-neutral.

 

79.                  They extend to words, behaviour or communication used or made by “any means”, which will obviously include electronic means.


 B.        Illustrations


80.                  Second, illustrations have been introduced in clauses 3 and 4.

 

81.                  These illustrations reiterate and signal that the Bill will cover a wide range of anti-social behaviour, such as cyber-bullying, bullying of children and sexual harassment, which will be an offence, wherever it takes place, including of course in the workplace.

 

 82.                  Women who are sexually harassed at the workplace or outside will now have a clear remedy. 

 

83.                  The difference from existing legislation under the MOA is that now it will be quite clear that online sexual harassment is also criminal conduct.

 

84.                  The illustrations in the Bill give an idea of some of the types of behaviour which are covered.

 

85.                  The illustrations are not intended to limit the situations which may amount to an offence under the Act.


C.        Penalties

 

86.                  Third, the Bill provides the court with a wider range of sentencing options to ensure that the sentence meted out in each case better takes into account the culpability of the offender and the harm caused to the victim.

 

87.                  Clauses 3 to 6 update the existing penalties under sections 13A to D of the MOA to better reflect the gravity of the offences.

 

88.                  Some offences will now attract an imprisonment term where appropriate, instead of merely a fine under the MOA.

 

89.                  Clause 8 further provides enhanced penalties for repeat offenders. This is not available under the present MOA.

 

 

90.                  Clause 9 empowers the Court to make Community Orders where appropriate. And that is new as well.

 

91.                  For example, take Mandatory Treatment Orders (MTOs), which is a type of community order.

 

92.                  Offenders who harass due to an underlying mental condition need help to resolve the root causes of their behaviour.

 

93.                  MTOs allow such offenders to undergo psychiatric treatment in lieu of other criminal penalties.

 

94.                  This approach recognises that there are some people who are ill and it may be better to try and treat them rather than simply send them to jail.


D.           Stalking

 

95.                  Fourth, the Bill introduces a new offence which is not found in current legislation – that of unlawful stalking.

 

96.                  Stalking can be highly disruptive to the lives of many people, often in devastating ways.

 

97.                  I will refer to two illustrations.

 

98.                  First example, American singer Ms Leandra Ramm. She was terrorised by a Singaporean cyberstalker for 6 years.

 

99.                  The man professed his love.  He showed his love by making numerous death threats to her.

 

100.               The Court sentenced him to 3 years’ imprisonment.  The Court said that his actions were a perverse form of “mental assault” and “emotional terrorism” and that the matter was an “abhorrent case of cross-border cyberstalking”.

 

101.               Second, Ms Joanne Lee, a local journalist, received countless voicemails and numerous unwanted gifts and letters from her harasser.

 

102.               She eventually quit her job because of the trauma and anxiety.

 

103.               In Ms Lee’s case, her harasser was eventually fined $4,000.

 

104.               I think we will agree that a fine is not an adequate response to the harrowing experience that Ms Lee and other victims of such persistent, unwanted attention go through.

 

105.               What they need is for the stalking to stop, immediately and permanently.

 

106.               Clause 7 seeks to address the problem of stalking head on.

 

107.               Instead of trying to look for existing legislation which may or may not cover all forms of stalking and which, even when you find it, does not give you adequate remedies, we seek to comprehensively deal with the issue of stalking, with the new proposed legislation. 

 

108.               Clause 7 criminalises a “course of conduct” related to stalking, and which has the effect of causing harassment, alarm or distress.

 

109.               Clause 7 revolves around the concept of a “course of conduct”.

 

110.               The ‘course of conduct’ referred to in Clause 7 will cover acts which may in themselves be innocuous, but which when done repeatedly, and especially where unwanted, may cause victims harassment, alarm and distress.

 

111.               Clause 7 is drawn from the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act 1997, as amended by its Protection from Freedoms Act 2012. It also takes inspiration from the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL) Law Reform Committee’s 2001 “Report on Proposed Legislation to Curb Stalking”.

 

112.               The Bill does not limit the type of acts or omissions associated with stalking.

 

113.               Clause 7(3) provides some examples of such acts or omissions, for example, following the victim or repeatedly sending unwanted gifts and letters and so on.

 

114.               Clause 7(5) further provides a list of factors to guide the Court in deciding whether a course of conduct is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, for example, frequency and duration of conduct.

 

115.               The lists in clauses 7(3) and 7(5) are not meant to be exhaustive or to limit the Court’s discretion.

 

116.               It is for the Court to determine whether conduct in each case amounts to an offence under clause 7.

 

117.               Clause 7 as drafted is not intended to apply to inconsiderate behaviour in the context of neighbour disputes, for example. That will have to be dealt through separate legislation, as announced by the Minister for MCCY.

 

118.               It also excludes legitimate courses of conduct, for example, sending of a letter of demand for money owed under a contract or actions by police in pursuance of their duties. Such conduct will continue to be lawful.


E.        Public Servants


119.               Fifth, clause 6 extends the existing protection for public servants to workers who deliver services that are essential for the well-being of the general public but who are not regarded as “public servants” under existing laws.

 

120.               Examples will include public healthcare workers and public transport workers.

 

121.               This is to better protect workers who provide essential public services against abuse.

 

122.               The phrase “in relation to” the execution of the public servant or public service worker’s duty, which is a slight departure from the original s 13D, is intended to indicate that the offending conduct need not be committed during the performance of that duty, as long as it is committed in relation to the performance of that duty.

 

123.               Those are the five points with regard to the criminal sanctions and penalties.

 

F.        Other observations

 

124.               Conduct falling under the Bill may also amount to offences under other Acts, for example, criminal intimidation (s 506 of the Penal Code), racially or religiously linked offences (ss 298 and 298A of the Penal Code) or sexual grooming (s 376E of the Penal Code)

 

125.               Offences under the Bill will apply to acts committed outside Singapore, under certain conditions.

 

126.               This is to address the ease with which acts of harassment may be pursued using electronic means, transcending territorial borders, e.g. by mobile phone, over the Internet.

 

127.               Take stalking as an example:

 

(a)                   Offender could be overseas

(b)                   Offender could commit acts of stalking against victim

(c)                   Victim is in Singapore

 

128.               Under clause 17, if the offender knew or had reason to believe that the victim would be in Singapore at the time the acts were committed, the Court will have jurisdiction over the matter.

 

129.               There was consensus at the IPS Conference that our harassment laws should apply, even where the offender is overseas, so long as the harm is felt by the victim in Singapore.

 

130.               Under the Bill, offenders ordinarily outside Singapore too cannot escape liability simply because the acts of harassment were committed overseas, as long as the harm is caused to the victim in Singapore.

 

131.               In a similar vein, offenders in Singapore who commit acts of harassment against victims who are outside of Singapore will also not be able to escape liability.

 

 

V.                  PART III OF THE BILL – SELF-HELP AND CIVIL REMEDIES

 

132.               Let me now turn next to avenues for self-help and civil remedies under the Bill.

 

133.               Again there are five aspects which I will highlight.

 

A.        Abolishing the common law tort of harassment

 

134.               First, clause 14 abolishes the common law tort of harassment. All actions for harassment will be covered under this new legislation.

 

135.               This clarifies the uncertainty arising from the two High Court decisions, AXA Insurance and Malcomson, as to whether there is a course of action under the common law tort of harassment in Singapore.

 

B.        Damages



136.               Second, clause 11 will create a statutory right to bring an action for damages against a person who has contravened any of clauses 3, 4, 5, or 7.

 

137.               So apart from criminal sanctions, the victim can sue and claim damages against the perpetrator. 

 

138.               Damages are however not recoverable where clause 6 is contravened as the harm results to the victim in his capacity as a public servant or public service worker.

 

139.               However, damages will still be recoverable if the same acts also contravene clauses 3, 4, 5 or 7.

 

140.               Such damages will be quantified by the courts in accordance with existing common law principles.

 

C.        Protection Order and Expedited Protection Order

  

141.               Third, victims of harassment and related anti-social behaviour under clauses 3 to 7 may apply to the Court for a Protection Order (“PO”) under clause 12.

 

142.               So to explain to members, this is the kind of architecture that the new law encompasses.

 

143.               Earlier, as I said, clauses 3 to 6 exist under current law, clause 7 stalking is new, but the remedies that the victim can get were very limited. Now, for example, we are looking at POs and Expedited Protection Order (EPO). 

 

144.               The purpose of the PO is to protect victims from further harassment.

 

145.               In this context, we also took reference from the 2001 SAL Law Reform Committee’s Report on Stalking.

 

  Effect of POs

 

146.               What is the effect of the PO? Such an order may require harassers to:

 

(a)                   First, desist from doing that which is stated in the order, for example, stop sending the unwanted gifts or loitering outside the victim’s house.

 

(b)                   Second, remove harassing publications and other forms of communication, if these were the cause of the harassment, for example, to remove a nude photograph of the victim which the harasser had uploaded on an online forum without the victim’s consent.

 

(c)                   Third, require the harasser to attend counselling or mediation.

 

147.               Where harassment arose from published communication, POs may also require third parties, e.g. a publisher or website administrator, in addition to harassers, to remove the offending communication.

 

148.               This seeks to address the nature of online communication, especially over the Internet.

 

149.               These measures are in line with public sentiment.

 

150.               As I have stated earlier, 83% of those polled by REACH support tougher measures to deal with harassment both online and offline.

 

151.               They are in favour of giving courts powers to order that online comments be taken down if they amount to harassing conduct.

 

152.               The overwhelming public view is that if the harasser does not take those comments down, the courts should be given the power to do so.

 

153.               The PO achieves this result.

 

154.               Obviously the underlying point is that the conduct must amount to harassment. And harassment is not a new concept; it already exists in our law.

 

155.               What this legislation does is to make this clear, that it is harassment, regardless of the means in which it is committed, whether online or offline. And then if you can prove harassment i.e. illegal conduct, then you will get a set of remedies to try and deal with the illegal conduct.

 

  Grant of POs and EPOs

 

 156.               POs will be granted where


(a)                   Clauses 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 have been contravened, or if any one of them has been contravened;


(b)                   The contravention is likely to continue, or the respondent is likely to commit a contravention; and


(c)                   It is “just and equitable” in the circumstances to do so.

 

157.               So what orders we make will really depend on the court, and looking at the facts and circumstances of each case.


158.               In cases of urgency, the Court may grant an EPO under clause 13 against harassers and third parties, as the case may be.

 

159.               The effect of EPOs is similar to that of POs, which I explained earlier.

 

160.               EPOs can be granted where the offending conduct is likely to have a “substantial adverse effect on the victim or the victim’s day-to-day activities”.

 


161.               Examples of such effect could be:

 

(a)                   Changing routes to work, work patterns or daily routine, if the victim is forced to change how they go to work


(b)                   Putting in place additional security measures in their home


(c)                   Moving out of his or her home


(d)                   The victim is forced to or withdraws from social interaction

 

162.               And of course the courts have to see if the victim is behaving unreasonably or whether indeed the conduct amounts to harassment vis-à-vis a reasonable person.

 

163.               This is not an exhaustive list.

 

 

164.               The absence of any of the types of conduct or changes of patterns of conduct that I outlined does not necessarily mean that an EPO may not be granted. It really depends on the facts in each case and the approach we have taken in the Bill is to give discretion to the courts. That is how our laws have always worked.

 

165.               To help laypersons navigate the court process without involving lawyers, it is our intention that POs and EPOs will be governed by a set of simplified court procedures and court forms.

 

166.               One of the comments that repeatedly came up from the Conference and following the Conference, is that going to lawyers, going to courts, both take time and money. Often the victims will not be in the position to do so and they are very mindful of this.

 

167.               This is really focusing on the man on the street, woman on the street, who is harassed and victimised.

 

168.               Therefore, we will try and make sure a set of processes are put in place, which will simplify applications to court, as far as possible, even without the need for lawyers. We will have expedited processes in the courts which can give this remedy immediately within a day, two days, sometimes.   

 

169.               Victims should not be frustrated by the process in their bid to seek redress.

 

                      Breach of POs and EPOs

 

170.               A severe approach will be taken towards breaches of POs and EPOs.

 

171.               The Bill criminalises such breaches (save for breaches of an order to attend counselling or mediation).

 

172.               Breaches of such orders will amount to offences under clause 10 and may attract a fine or an imprisonment or both.

 

D.        False statements of fact

 


173.               Fourth, in striking the balance between legislation, criminalising the conduct and self-help, getting recourse through criminal law or claim for damages through a civil claim, we shouldn’t make those the only avenues

 

174.               It shouldn’t be the case that every time a person is harassed, or experiences a wide range of conduct that amounts to harassment, the victim is forced to always either go and file a criminal complaint or make a civil claim.

 

175.               There are many victims who will feel that as long as there is some redress, without having to claim damages, they would be satisfied because their feelings of alarm or distress would be settled as long as the truth is set out.

 

176.               We should really give people the ability to help themselves and try and sort out matters themselves where possible.

 

177.               Take attacks against someone involving lies, untruths or inaccuracies about someone.

 

178.               75% of those polled by REACH were of the view that such conduct should be treated as harassment.

 

179.               Our view is that we shouldn’t criminalise all such conduct. We should keep to the definition of harassment which already exists in the law and simply give greater remedies - to be criminal, the conduct must fall under the categories in clauses 3 to 7, which I have also explained - and not change the law, except to update it as I have explained,

 

180.               If there are falsehoods, and let’s say there’s harassment or it’s borderline harassment, or maybe nearly harassment, or not harassment, then we give the victim the right to request, to ask the relevant parties, that the falsehood be corrected, maybe through clarification of replies, which set out the correct facts.

 

181.               Some victims of harassment may well choose that route instead of having to make a complaint, like I said earlier, or claim damages. They just want the truth to be out and they don’t want to escalate the matter further. We should allow that.

 

182.               So it’s a matter of providing remedies rather than having to go to the criminal and civil law all the time and make claims.

 

183.               Of course, if the offending party or websites refuse to carry the clarification or the response or the correction or the notation that the true facts can be found somewhere else, or the victim’s reply is not able to get the same level of visibility as the falsehood, the law should provide some recourse.

 

184.               Going back to public opinion, 82% of those polled by REACH felt that people should have a legal right to require that factual inaccuracies about themselves should be corrected.

 

185.               This is the thinking behind cl 15.

 

186.               But there will be no claim for damages or criminal sanctions. If you choose not to file a criminal complaint, if you choose not to make a civil claim, if you choose to clarify in some form, then that’s all you will get. You don’t get money, you don’t get to send the other person to jail.

 

187.               A simple process, self-help, can apply to a range of situations but you must prove or show that there was a false statement of fact. 

 

188.               Cl 15 therefore allows the subject of the falsehood to apply for a court order that will give the Court the discretion to make an order for the publication, for example, a notification that draws attention to the falsehood and the publication of the correct facts. 

 

189.               This will allow readers to access the truth.


  Grant of Court Order

 

 190.               It is really for the Court to decide when it would be just and equitable for a court order to be made, and in what form that order should be made.

 

  Against whom the order is made

 

191.               Clause 15 not intended to apply to mere conduits such as Network Service Providers, or search engines.

 

192.               However, content providers which have some degree of control over the content published on their website could be subject to a clause 15 order.



E.        Provisions to address the challenges of modern day technology

 


193.               Finally, I would like to highlight two arrangements which have been introduced to address specific challenges associated with cyber space, which make harassment and perpetuating falsehoods easier, and in some ways more egregious. These are anonymity, as well as the borderless and viral nature of online publications

 

194.               These apply only to harassment or falsehoods arising from published communications, for example over the Internet, under clauses 12 (POs), 13 (EPOs) and 15 (notification orders).

 

195.               I will refer in this context to the party putting out the offending communication in clauses 12, 13 and 15 as the publisher.

 

                      Anonymity

 

196.               First, anonymity in cyber space often emboldens one to pepper online discussions with abuse, insults, rumors, lies and untruths.

 

197.               Many say things which they would otherwise not utter in the physical world. For example telling a mother that her baby should be euthanised.

 

198.               Clause 19 therefore provides that if the identity of the publisher cannot be ascertained, rules may be made for such persons to be identified by a unique identifier, for example, Internet location address, website, username or account, or electronic mail address.

 

199.               Thus, it is not necessary for victims to discover the real name of a publisher before applications for protection orders or notification orders can be made.

 

200.               The aim is to prevent publishers from hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.

 

201.               Clause 19 is drawn from  Nova Scotia’s Cyber-Safety Act 2013.

 

                      Borderless and viral nature of online publications

 

202.               Second, to address the borderless and viral nature of online publications, the Court may grant POs, EPOs and clause 15 orders which are good against all publishers.

 

203.               Take the example of the harasser who uploads a nude photograph of the victim on an online forum.

 

(a)                   Say the victim has gone to court and obtained a PO requiring the harasser to remove the photograph.

 

(b)                   After the PO was granted, the victim discovers that other persons, say “Jane” and “Peter”, have also re-posted her nude photograph on other online platforms.

 

(c)                   The same PO will also now require “Jane” and “Peter” to remove the nude photographs which they had re-posted on those other platforms as well. The victim does not have to go back to court to obtain another PO.

 

204.               These orders will bind publishers such as “Jane” and “Peter” if they are aware of the terms of the orders.

 

VI.                   CONCLUSION

 

205.               Madam Speaker, to sum up, what we are really doing today, is to:

 

(a)                   Look at the consequences to victims;


(b)                   Ask whether those consequences – that threat, abuse, alarm, distress, etc – need to be protected against; and


(c)                   Decide for ourselves the extent to which the law should intervene and give remedies, or whether we should just leave the situation alone.

 

206.               Anti-social and disruptive behaviour, if left unchecked, will strike at the heart and foundations of our society, and the concept of the rule of law.

 

207.               Public opinion is strong and clear:


(a)                   Harassment is not acceptable.


(b)                   We must do something about it.


(c)                   The law must deal firmly with those who harass others.

 

208.               We responded with a Bill that provides a calibrated and graduated response to harassing conduct so as to better protect our people from harassment and related anti-social behaviour.

 

209.               Our thinking underlying the Bill is as follows:

 

(a)                   As far as possible, we keep the strong arm of the law to the background.

 

(b)                   But where it is serious, civil and criminal remedies must be applicable.

 

210.               More fundamentally, harassment cannot be dealt with by legislation alone.

 

211.               Ultimately, it also has to be addressed by cultivating community norms and public education on what is socially acceptable behaviour.

 

212.               If everyone frowns upon a particular type of behaviour, that will cast a powerful norm without even having to resort to the law.

 

213.               The Bill provides a legislative framework which sets standards and can be the basis on which such norms can be cultivated.

 

214.               Conferences such as the Cyber Wellness Student Ambassador Programme of 2014, where students learn how to have a positive online presence by creating meaningful and responsible relationships online, and the Media Literacy Council’s Safer Internet Day Campaign 2014, a campaign to encourage Singaporeans to pledge what we can do to make a better internet, are a good start.

 

215.               We should try and ensure that our children grow up in a stable and safe environment, free from bullying by peers and discrimination.

 

216.               Our people, women and men alike, should be free from intimidating, hostile, abusive environments, be it at home or in the workplace.

 

217.               The Bill is about these, trying to create those norms, and putting in place a framework for criminalising conduct which is unacceptable.

 

218.               What we have tried to do is to take it from existing legislation and draw reference from legislation, that is in the works.

 

219.               Madam Speaker, I beg to move.



Last updated on 27 Jan 2015