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Singapore Implements Online Criminal Harms Act To Combat Cyber Crimes

Singapore recently implemented the Online Criminal Harms Act (OCHA) to address online criminal activities. OCHA allows for the issuance of directions to online service providers, entities, or individuals when specified criminal offenses occur.  In this article, our friends at Pacific Prime CXA will provide a succinct summary of the main provisions of OCHA.

Background and Purpose of the Act

OCHA was passed in Parliament on July 5, 2023, in response to the increasing prevalence of cybercrimes and the need for a robust legal framework to address them.

The primary purpose of OCHA is to safeguard individuals and the digital ecosystem from various forms of criminal activities, including terrorism, racial and religious harmony offenses, drugs, violence, and scams.

The Five Types of Directions under OCHA

OCHA introduces five types of directions that can be issued:

  1. Disabling Direction: This requires online service providers to disable specific content or their services from being accessed in Singapore.
  2. Account Restriction Direction: This stops an account on a service from communicating or interacting with people in Singapore.
  3. Stop Communication Direction: This prohibits the communication of specified online content to people in Singapore.
  4. Access Blocking Direction: This requires internet service providers to block access to certain online locations from Singapore.
  5. App Removal Direction: This mandates app stores to remove certain applications from their Singapore storefronts.

Lower Threshold for Issuing Directions under OCHA

For scams and malicious cyber activities, OCHA applies a lower threshold for issuing directions compared to other criminal offenses because these activities often cause significant harm to victims.

The Codes of Practice

OCHA introduces an ex-ante framework through the Codes of Practice. Providers of designated online services must establish systems and processes to counter possible offenses related to scams and malicious cyber activities. This aims to proactively address these crimes before they are fully executed.

These Codes are framed in terms of outcomes that the services must achieve. This collaboration between law enforcement and online service providers prevents crimes by utilizing the providers’ knowledge of their own systems.

Enforcement of OCHA

Designated officers from relevant agencies will issue directions for criminal offenses under their purview. To ensure consistent enforcement, a centralized authority within the Singapore Police Force serves as a single point of contact for recipients of directions across the government.

If a direction is given, the recipient can seek reconsideration from the issuing agency. If the reconsideration request is unsuccessful, the recipient can appeal to a specialized reviewing tribunal instead of resorting to general court appeals.

OCHA does not require online companies to compromise end-to-end encryption in private messaging. However, directions can be issued to restrict accounts used for criminal activities on messaging platforms.

Although OCHA has taken effect, the implementation details and development of the Codes of Practice are yet to be fully determined. The Singaporean government aims to adopt a consultative approach in developing these Codes and provide reasonable timeframes for platforms to comply.

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