SINGAPORE: Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Social and Family Development, Ms Sun Xueling, said in Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 23) that cloud-based instant messaging service Telegram has yet to respond to requests from the Singapore Police Force to remove access to accounts disseminating explicit materials.

She noted, however, that “there has recently been some progress in our engagement with Telegram,” although Ms Sun stopped short of explaining what kind of progress she meant. She added that the government will continue to work with Telegram and other online platforms to protect Singapore users better from harmful content.

Ms Sun said this in response to a question that had been asked by MP Nadia Ahmad Samdin (PAP—Ang Mo Kio GRC). Ms Samdin asked about the measures in place to address the increasing number of Telegram channels selling nonconsensual and illegally obtained explicit materials.

The MP cited the Telegram group SG Nasi Lemak. In 2019, four men—two of whom were only in their teens— were arrested due to their involvement in the circulation of obscene materials via a chat group by that name on Telegram. Over 44,000 people had been part of the group at one point.

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Read also: Additional charge for teens involved in circulating obscene material via SG Nasi Lemak Telegram chat group

Ms Samdin also asked about the Government’s assessment of the enforcement system’s current ability to tackle and deter this type of crime in a timely way and what more can be done in working with online platforms to prevent them from occurring.

Ms Sun answered that the sale or distribution of non-consensual and illegally obtained explicit materials is taken very seriously by law enforcement in Singapore.

Under the Online Criminal Harms Act (OCHA), which will be operationalised progressively from the first quarter of next year, the Police may issue a Disabling Direction to online platforms, including Telegram, to prevent these types of materials on the platform from being accessed by Singapore users.

“Non-compliance by the online platform with these Directions will be an offence. In these instances, the OCHA Competent Authority can also issue an Access Blocking Order, App Removal Order or Service Restriction Order to the internet service providers or app stores to restrict access to the online service provided by the platform or part of the online service, to prevent the criminal activity and content from being accessed by persons in Singapore,” she added.

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However, Ms Sun also said that the platforms themselves have a responsibility to curb the spread of harmful content online and ensure their services are safe for their users.

She also said that the Code of Practice for Online Safety, which took effect in July, has made it necessary for Facebook, HardwareZone, Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube to implement systems and processes that would minimise exposure to harmful content for Singapore users.

“Singapore users can report harmful content to the designated services for appropriate actions to be taken. The IMDA will periodically review the need to designate other social media services with significant reach and impact as necessary, including Telegram,” said Ms Sun.

Read also: Nasi Lemak chat group scandal: Youth put on probation for a year  /TISG