Singapore's Fake News Law Is Also An Internet Surveillance Law

from the hidden-bonus-track dept

It appears the fake news law passed in Singapore isn't just a critic-targeting, speech-chilling piece of legislation passed under the cover of providing citizens with a more trustworthy social media experience. It's also a handy vehicle for increased domestic surveillance, as Jennifer Daskal reports for the New York Times.

The law could be used to require any company that operates as an “internet intermediary” — including search engines, social media companies, and messaging services — to keep records of what users view. But it doesn’t stop there. While it’s unclear how the new law will be enforced, it even appears to leave room for the government to require encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp or iMessage to identify who said what to whom.

What this has to do with policing "fake news" is anyone's guess. But "fake news" laws are never really about tracking down and removing fake news. They're about controlling what people see online and providing a handy kill switch for anything governments don't want to see passed around the internet.

The law allows the government to demand removal of content that undermines the government's official narratives. This isn't a loophole or an unexpected side effect. It's the point of the law. Any minister can issue a content removal demand if they see something they feel "undermines democratic processes or society."

Removal demands are supposed to be the last resort. The first response to alleged fake news is the issuance of a correction notice -- again, as demanded by the Singaporean government. This is far less draconian than demanding removal of content, but this response method has its own set of problems. The law requires more than the appending of a correction to alleged fake news. It also requires tech companies to ensure everyone who viewed the alleged fake news is informed of the correction. This will result in the creation and maintenance of web tracking infrastructure solely for the benefit of the government.

Correction notices effectively require websites to track those who post, look at and might be influenced by or attracted to a “false” statement. They can be ordered to identify all those who looked at the infringing material even before it was labeled troubling. They must then send out correction notices to these prior viewers, or risk hefty fines and even jail time.

Once companies are retaining records on all Singaporean users to comply with the fake news law, they won't be able to credibly claim they don't have these records if the government starts demanding them for other reasons. It will sweep in more than just new sources and social media sites. It will also cover anywhere else "fake news" might be posted, which includes comment threads and review sites.

Intentionally or not, the Singapore government has used fake news to create an internet surveillance program. The best part is it won't cost the government a cent to run it. It will be performed free-of-charge by tech companies who will still be on the hook for fines if the government decides they're not fighting fake news well enough.

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Filed Under: fake news, internet, privacy, singapore, surveillance

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  1. icon
    Griffdog (profile), 5 Jun 2019 @ 9:33am

    news summaries

    I get most of my "news" reading through a summary page, just seeing the headlines and the sentence or so of intro text. I rarely click through to the full article. Will sites need to track which headlines they showed me? If I don't sign in to the conglomeration service, how would they ever know how to contact me, lurking on the other side of my VPN?
    On the other hand, this is going to generate some very interesting "transparency" pages where some entity, outside of the control of the censorial country, collects the records of which articles have been targeted and provides fact-checking rebuttals.

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