Singapore ― Member of Parliament Jamus Lim (Workers’ Party – Sengkang GRC) called on removing ambiguous language from the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA) bill, proposing amendments presented by his party.
Speaking during the Parliamentary debate on FICA on Monday (Oct 4), Assoc Prof Lim said that the bill’s scope, as it stood, was “troublingly vague” and would allow action to be taken based on speculation or suspicion.
Under FICA, the government will obtain powers to compel Internet and social media service providers to disclose information on users or remove online content to counter foreign attempts to influence domestic politics.
“We can all accept that there are threats out there, that have to be dealt with. We can all accept that some threats are subtle and, by design, evasive, and hence difficult to identify and prove with absolute certainty,” said Assoc Prof Lim.
He referred to a few clauses in FICA that will charge an individual with an offence if they engage in electronic communications that involve an activity that “is or is likely to be prejudicial to the friendly relations of Singapore with other countries.”
Assoc Prof Lim questioned the meaning of the word “likely” in the clause, noting statistically, any outcome that has the greater probability of being realised could well be anything ranging from 51 to 99 per cent.
“Thus, establishing that a given action will amount to an offence will require an estimation of likelihood. While courts have a long history of attributing just cause based on strong, credible evidence, this is an enormous leap for any single, largely unchecked individual,” he said.
The WP proposed amendments to raise the level of proof required, from mere suspicion or belief to at least some degree of evidence or actionable intelligence.
Despite instances where the risks of subsequent malicious activity would justify the execution of preemptive outcomes, there should be at least evidence possessed or actionable intelligence and reasonable assessment before engaging, he added.
“Short of this, we are relying on gut feeling and instincts to play with people’s lives,” said Assoc Prof Lim.
He touched on other “uneasily vague” clauses in the bill, such as Clause 5(3), which states that activities would be covered so long as “both the person and the foreign principal knew or expected that the person would or might undertake that activity.”
“Surely it is possible that an individual might independently choose to pursue a given course of action, bereft of external influence, yet this choice could still be common knowledge?” he asked.
He also noted that the definition of foreign principals might be excessively broad.
“As a Party, we have always believed in the importance of robust debate over policy alternatives. This will be compromised if our people exercise even more self-restraint or self-censorship as a result of FICA, and our policies and political landscape would be poorer as a result.”
“I suspect and have reason to believe that FICA, as it is written, is likely to be inadvertently detrimental to our public interest,” said Assoc Prof Lim, calling to move the proposed amendments.
Read his full speech here: Foreign Influence in a Globalised City-State–speech by Jamus Lim