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A look at key changes to Protection from Harassment Act

SINGAPORE — Crucial changes to the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) were passed in Parliament on Tuesday (May 7) to streamline procedures for victims of online bullying and harassment, and to tackle offences such as doxxing.

SINGAPORE  Crucial changes to the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) were passed in Parliament on Tuesday (May 7) to streamline procedures for victims of online bullying and harassment, and to tackle offences such as doxxing.

The changes set up a new court within the State Courts to simplify the court process for anyone seeking a court order to deal with online and other harassment — and to deliver more efficient and more effective relief.

KEY AMENDMENTS:

#1. Doxxing

Doxxing, the act of publishing information about a victim’s identity, will now be considered an offence if it matches at least one of the following criteria. The publication was:

  • Made with the intention to harass the victim
  • Made with the knowledge or intention to put the victim in fear of violence
  • Made with the knowledge or intention to provoke the use of violence against the victim.

Examples that do not constitute doxxing include:

  • Identifying the perpetrators of crimes, including traffic offences or Poha offences
  • Posting videos of public disputes to give a factual account of the incident

Why change it?

The current laws do not address this type of behaviour, as they require communications to be “threatening, abusive or insulting”. Doxxing attempts, like sending out emails, and divulging personal and identifiable information, may not meet this criterion under the previous provisions.

#2. Curbing the spread of online falsehoods

The amended law creates a new general correction order, which will enable victims to go to court to seek an order to require a third party such as a news outlet to publish a correction, if "serious harm" to one’s reputation was suffered due to the publication of a falsehood.

The new order joins four existing orders in Poha, which were enhanced to allow interim orders to be made, to curb the spread of false statements quickly. They are:

  • Stop publication orders: To stop the publication of false statements by individuals or entities
  • Correction orders: To require the publication of a corrected statement or draw attention to the falsity in the false statement
  • Disabling orders: To require the disabling of access to false statements circulated by an Internet intermediary
  • Targeted correction orders: Requiring the distribution of a correction of false statement to viewers on the Internet intermediary’s platform

These orders can be made by the court if both the following criteria are satisfied:

  • The statement being complained of is false
  • It is just and equitable to seek the order

Protection will also extend to entities to ensure that companies and their staff do not suffer or lose their livelihoods as a result of falsehoods.

These provisions will deal only with false statements of fact such as misleading statements. This will not include criticism, opinions, satire and parody.

Why change it?

Just last week, false messages that targeted actor Lim Kay Tong and local football legend Fandi Ahmad were circulated. The amendments will make it easier and quicker for victims of falsehoods to seek recourse and counter false statements with the truth.

The general correction order taps the wide reach of third parties such as news outlets to correct viral falsehoods that have spread across different platforms.

#3. A new court

The new Protection from Harassment Court within the State Courts will oversee all criminal and civil cases, dealing with both online and offline harassment. Judges will be trained to deal with harassment-related matters as well.

The court process will be streamlined, with a simplified application form for protection orders (POs) at the new court, or it can be filed online. With the new court, these PO applications can be processed in a shorter time frame.

The court will aim to conduct hearings for expedited protection orders (EPOs) within 48 to 72 hours of an application being made. Where there is an element of violence or doxxing involved, the court will try to conduct hearings for EPOs within 24 hours of an application being made.

When granting an EPO, the judge will determine if a criminal investigation is warranted and refer the case to the police, to ensure that action will be taken against serious cases of hurt or harassment.

Victims need not prove their case more than once, as the amendments will help victims meet the burden of proof. Previously, victims who filed a Magistrate’s Complaint had to apply for a PO to enjoy protection and reproduce the evidence of the harassment in the process.

Why change it?

Simplifying and streamlining the court processes may relieve some of the anxieties faced by applicants and encourage those in need to come forward.

#4. Enhancing protection for harassment victims

The scope of POs will be expanded, and can now

  • Prevent the publication of similar harassing material that has been changed slightly by an offender and shared by others. Internet intermediaries can be ordered to disable access to offending communications — to stop the material going viral.
  • Protect people related to the victim such as family members
  • Protect against harassing or violent entities such as illegal debt collectors

The court will also be given more power when granting POs:

  • The respondent can be ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment and undergo psychiatric treatment in a civil proceeding. Previously, this was possible only in a criminal proceeding

Other amendments that strengthen the law to help victims and increase deterrence include:

  • Domestic exclusion orders which allow victims to exclude a harasser from their shared residence, even if the harasser has ownership of it
  • Holding entities can be held liable for harassment behaviour by employees
  • Arrests will be made when the PO is breached — if hurt is caused, or persistent harassment continues despite the order
  • Penalties for offences against vulnerable persons or victims of intimate partner violence will be doubled
  • Maximum penalties for subsequent breaches of a PO will be doubled

Why change it?

The lack of severity in punishments is a factor that deters victims from applying for POs, which the amendments seek to address. The amendments also aim to deter potential harassers.

Related topics

Parliament harassment

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