Singapore proposes measure to ban citizen communication at terror attack sites

In efforts to counter terrorism, Singapore has proposed a new law to prevent people from taking pictures and videos at terror attack sites. The law has drawn criticism from experts who believe it will be hard to apply in a digital age. 

Wong Made-E/AP
A view of Singapore's financial skyline as seen from the Marina Bay area. The wealthy city-state has proposed a new law to prevent people – including journalists – from taking photos and videos at terror attack sites.

Singapore on Tuesday proposed a new law to prevent people at terror attack sites from taking photographs or videos or communicating about police operations, a measure security experts say would be among the first of its kind worldwide.

Although the wealthy city-state ranks as one of the safest countries globally, authorities say it has been a target of Islamic extremists since the 1990s and they have stepped up efforts to deter terrorism in recent years.

"I'm not aware of any other countries taking such a proactive stance against the propagation of images or information during a terrorist incident," said Dan Bould, Asia director of crisis management at Aon, which provides services such as risk management.

The measure would stop counter-terrorism tactics and capabilities from becoming widely known and limit the footage available for propaganda use by terrorist groups and their followers, added Mr. Bould, a former captain in the British Army.

Introduced in parliament on Tuesday, the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill 2018 would allow police to issue a "communications stop order" following approval from the home affairs minister, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

That would "require all persons in the incident area to stop making or communicating films or pictures of the incident area, and stop communicating text or audio messages about the ongoing security operations in the incident area," it said in a statement.

The new measures would also cover journalists, and breaches could lead to a maximum fine of $20,000 (US$15,200) and prison terms of up to two years, a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.

Information leaks to terrorists could risk the lives of security officers and those caught up in an attack, the ministry said, citing media coverage of police operations in a 2015 attack on a Jewish deli in Paris and a 2008 attack in India's financial capital of Mumbai.

Ian Wilson, a specialist in terrorism and counter-terrorism at Australia's Murdoch University, said the proposals seemed "deeply flawed," however, as they would be difficult to apply in a digital age.

In some terror incidents, such as the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, media coverage has helped authorities find perpetrators or identify those in harm's way, he added.

The proposed law was "unprecedented when it comes to state attempts to stem the communication or recording of a security operation or terrorist incident," Mr. Wilson said.

Last month, Southeast Asian defense ministers said the region faced a growing terrorist threat as foreign fighters return home, and pledged to boost cooperation to fight militancy.

This story was reported by Reuters.

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