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Singapore to legislate against cyber bullies

Singapore has become one of the first countries to offer legal protection against cyber-bullying with the tabling of its Protection from Harassment Bill. in the Singapore parliament.05 Mar 2014

The new bill makes it illegal to stalk someone in the cyber world or the physical world. The offence would carry a fine of up to SGD5,000 ($4,000) or a jail sentence of up to 12 months or both.

The proposals would also strengthen the law on existing offences of harassment and the threat or provocation of violence, by making the same standards of what constitutes harassment in the physical world an offence online as well. Convicted offenders could face a fine of SGD5,000  ($4,000) or up to six months in jail or both. Repeat offenders would face enhanced penalties.

Harassment acts committed outside Singapore would also become an offence in certain circumstances, the Singapore Ministry of Law said. For example, if an offender who is overseas commits any acts of stalking against a victim whom the offender knew, or ought to have known, would be in Singapore at the time, then the offence of stalking would apply.

The law which currently protects public servants from harassment encountered when exercising their duties would also be extended under the proposals to include essential public service workers such as health care workers and public transport workers.

Minister for law Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam introduced the Protection from Harassment Bill 2014 for a first reading at the Singapore parliament on Monday. He addressed a conference on harassment in November last year where legal professionals, civic workers, educators and social workers met to discuss the growing problem of harassment, including cyber harassment.

In his speech to the conference Shanmugam said: "We have the second highest rate of online bullying of youths (58%), behind only China (70%). Together with China, we are the only two countries among the 25 surveyed where online bullying is more pervasive than bullying in the physical world."

The bill also provides for a range of self-help measures, civil remedies and criminal sanctions to help victims combat harassment. For example, victims will have the right to apply to the court for a Protection Order requiring harassers to desist from doing anything which may cause them further harm. The court will have the power to grant an Expedited Protection Order to protect victims in cases of urgency. Expedited Protection Orders give the power to order third parties to take down material and also to order offenders to go for counselling. If false allegations have been made against a victim, and the victim can prove in court that they are false, the court can direct "suitable notification" to alert readers to the facts. The form of notification would be at the discretion of the courts.

The bill outlines situations which would be likely to result in conviction. It said: "X and Y are classmates. X posts a vulgar tirade against Y on a website accessible to all of their classmates. One of Y's classmates shows the message on the website to Y, and Y is distressed. X is guilty of an offence under this section."

Singapore-based Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "Singapore’s efforts to curb cyber-harassment represents one of the first countries to attempt to do so, as a result of its status as a connected nation. Some of the notable features in the draft bill would be the extra-territoriality and the abolition of the common law tort of harassment. On the other hand, there could be possible questions whether the proposed laws are too wide, since they seem to exclude private investigation work, and how it will work with the juvenile system in the event a cyber-bully is a minor."

The bill will have to be formally adopted by the parliament before it becomes law.