Singapore must put in place legislative measures to counter foreign interference so that the authorities can investigate and respond expeditiously, said Minister for Law and Home Affairs Mr K Shanmugam.
Reiterating that each country has a “sovereign right” to decide how to protect its national security interests, Mr Shanmugam said that countries cannot take a hands-off approach. “The serious impact of hostile information campaigns on the social fabric, political sovereignty, peace, stability and national security has to be met head on. And it has to be met head on by states working with tech companies as partners,” he added.
Speaking at the RSIS Conference on Foreign Interference Tactics and Counter-Measures on 25 September 2019, Mr Shanmugam pointed out how foreign interference is not a new concept and that the age-old threat has been revolutionised with the pervasive penetration of the Internet and social media. But technology companies cannot be expected to self-regulate in the absence of legislation, said Mr Shanmugam. “Fundamentally, this is an issue of national sovereignty and national security. It cannot be subcontracted to the private sector,” he emphasised.
Citing examples and incidents from other countries, Mr Shanmugam commented that there is a growing commercial industry with various tools that can support foreign interference. This has made hostile information campaigns cheap, easy and effective to mount.
Mr Shanmugam also called out a group of activists who set up a site called New Naratif, which is funded by a foreign foundation and has received other foreign contributions. “Is it right to be funded by foreigners, to push for their political views?” Mr Shanmugam asked the participants.
Mr Shanmugam said, The Online Citizen (TOC) receives support from foreigners too and has employed foreigners, including Malaysians, to write almost exclusively negative articles on Singaporean politics. He added that such online news sites with writers who could be foreigners and with unknown motivations could easily be used as tools for foreign interference. “Their only interest is to get eyeballs, and perhaps if they are under the influence of other agencies, then there are other interests as well. It can easily be used as tools for foreign interests,” he cautioned.