Singapore “Fake News” Law Goes Into Effect
- A new law has gone into effect in Singapore that aims to stop the spread of fake news by allowing members of the government to single-handedly decide what is and is not fake news and whether or not that content should be removed.
- Critics have argued that the law is a blatant attempt to suppress free speech and stifle political dissent ahead of an election.
- Big tech companies like Facebook and Google have also vocally opposed the law, and others have noted that one of the most concerning aspects is that it also applies to private messages sent on encrypted apps like WhatsApp.
- Now, individuals can face up to 10 years in jail for sharing whatever the government deems “false information.”
“Fake News” Law
A controversial bill widely known as the “fake news” law officially went into effect in Singapore Wednesday.
The new law will aim to stop the spread of disinformation, or fake news, in the city-state. The legislation, which is officially called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, was passed by Singapore’s Parliament back in May.
According to reports, it will now be illegal to spread any “false statements of fact” that would potentially pose a threat to “public tranquility,” and the “friendly relations of Singapore with other countries.”
That may seem straightforward, but the law is controversial due to the fact that it gives government ministers the sole power to determine what is and is not fake news, with the threshold for determination also being quite low.
According to Channel News Asia, a minister simply needs to decide if something is a “falsehood,” which is defined as “a statement of fact that is false or misleading.”
Then, if that minister says it is in the public interest to take action against the “falsehood,” they can order whatever content they determine to be fake news to be taken down or have a correction put up next to it.
Government ministers can also force tech companies like Facebook and Google to block accounts or websites they say are spreading false information.
While the government has said that anyone impacted by the law can file an appeal and that the appeals process will be quick and cheap, the consequences of being found guilty of posting false information are extremely high.
Under the law, companies that are found guilty of spreading fake news can face fines up to $1 million in Singapore dollars—which is about $722,000 in U.S. dollars—while individuals who are found guilty can face up to 10 years in prison.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the law is necessary “to hold online news sources and platforms accountable if they proliferate deliberate online falsehoods.”
“If we do not protect ourselves, hostile parties will find it a simple matter to turn different groups against one another and cause disorder in our society,” he added.
Free Speech Concerns
However, critics of the law have said that it is a clear attempt to stifle free speech and dissent, with many arguing that it gives way too much power and authority to the government without providing oversight for government abuse.
To that point, opponents have pointed to Singapore’s mixed record on protecting press freedoms and political dissent.
In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 151 out of 180 countries for press freedoms, meaning Singapore was ranked in one of the worst positions for a country that considers itself a democracy.
Notably, that also placed it below countries that are well-known for censoring any kind of political opposition, like Russia and Myanmar.
As a result, the activists, experts, and rights groups who have openly criticized the law worry that it will be used as a political tool for censorship.
Speaking to CNN, the Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said the bill will be used for “political purposes,” noting that it comes right before elections set to happen in the next few months.
“The Singapore government has a long history of calling everything they disagree with as false and misleading,” he added.
“Singapore’s leaders have crafted a law that will have a chilling effect on internet freedom throughout south-east Asia, and likely start a new set of information wars as they try to impose their narrow version of ‘truth’ on the wider world,” Robertson wrote in a tweet Wednesday.
The International Commission of Jurists, a group of judges and lawyers, also echoed Robertson’s sentiment in a statement before the law passed, where they argued that the law would create “a real risk that the law will be misused to clamp down on opinions or information critical of the government.”
Even members of Parliament have spoken out against the bill, arguing it is an overextension of government power.
“To introduce such a bill is not what the government claims to defend democracy and public interest, it is more like the actions of a dictatorial government that will resort to any means to hold on to absolute power,” opposition lawmaker Low Thia Khiang said before the bill’s passage in May.
Tech Companies Opposition
Others have also argued the law will give Singapore too much power over big tech firms that have a large presence in Singapore. For example, Facebook, Twitter, and Google all have their Asian headquarters in the city-state.
“This law would give Singapore overwhelming leverage over the likes of Facebook and Twitter to remove whatever the government determines is ‘misleading,’” Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia Nicholas Bequelin said in a statement.
“This is an alarming scenario. While tech firms must take all steps to make digital spaces safe for everyone, this does not provide governments an excuse to interfere with freedom of expression— or rule over the news feed,” he added.
Google and Facebook both opposed the law when it was being debated in Parliament. After it was passed, Google said that the law will “hurt innovation and the growth of the digital information ecosystem.”
Others have also noted that one of the most concerning parts so the law is that it does not just apply to posts made publicly on Facebook or Twitter but that it can be applied to closed private messaging apps and chat groups like WhatsApp, which is extremely popular in Singapore.
That, in turn, means the government can not only read its citizen’s private messages but also potentially jail them for up to 10 years for content sent privately, maybe even to just one other person.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (VICE) (The Guardian)
U.S. Air Force Signs Contract to Put Facial Recognition on Drones
The contract has raised concerns regarding privacy, accuracy, and the overall ethics of facial recognition technology.
The United States Air Force signed a contract with RealNetworks to use its facial recognition technology, SAFR, on smaller drones.
According to VICE, the contract limits the addition of this facial recognition technology to small, typically unarmed drones rather than the larger ones equipped with weapons.
Special operations teams will use the drones for reconnaissance during ops in foreign countries. Additionally, RealNetworks includes rescue missions, perimeter protection, and domestic search operations in the list of possible utilizations.
However, VICE reports that the contract did include discussion of a future in which this tech could be applied to target identification. As of now, the larger, armed drones identify targets using cameras and cell phone tracking, but those have been known to be inaccurate. Facial recognition could be used to lower the frequency of those mistakes made by drone operators.
Some have expressed ethical concerns regarding this development, including the worry that this could allow for unsavory and lethal action without any measure of accountability.
“There are innumerable ethical implications, from the way such devices might redistribute power or threaten groups within a society, to the ways in which they threaten established international humanitarian law in conflict zones,” Nicholas Davis, an industry professor at the University of Sydney, said in an interview with Newsweek.
“Remote killing in many ways is easy killing: a kind of virtual, video-game killing. This in itself is morally problematic,” Lily Hamourtziadou, a senior lecturer in criminology and security studies in the U.K. added. “Moreover, when a killing is attributed to a machine, there is lack of accountability and justice, and violence is used with impunity.”
RealNetworks claims that their software is more than 99% accurate and can recognize a face from a kilometer away despite reports that facial recognition software in general is famously faulty.
See what others are saying: (VICE) (Firstpost) (Gizmodo)
Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools
Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.
Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.
The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.
One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.
Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.
In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down.
“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.
OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications.
In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported.
NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.
“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others,“ it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.”
Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools.
In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.
See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)
31 Children Found Working Graveyard Shift in U.S. Meatpacking Plants
Evidence suggests the company may have minors employed at 400 other locations.
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently found that a leading contractor for sanitation allegedly employed 31 minors from ages 13 to 17 for overnight cleaning of slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities.
Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. is under investigation for employing over 30 minors in three locations in the Midwest. The DOL claims the children were cleaning dangerous equipment with hazardous chemicals up to 6 or 7 days a week. Several of these children reported injuries, including chemical burns.
The DOL filed a complaint with the Federal District Court of Nebraska for a nationwide injunction on Packers. According to their complaint, evidence suggests that Packers may have kids working at 400 other locations across the country.
The court partially fulfilled the DOL’s request and ordered Packers to “immediately cease and refrain from employing oppressive child labor.”
The order also demanded Packers comply with the DOL’s investigation because the complaint included claims that Packers’ managers had been tampering with evidence – including obstructing interviews and attempting to hide or delete important documents, text messages, and incident reports.
According to the complaint, the purpose for the nationwide injunction request is the safety of the kids while the DOL investigates.
“While Wage and Hour is continuing to pour over records to identify such children, it is slow, painstaking work. Yet, the children working overnight on the kill floor of these slaughterhouses cannot wait,” it reads.
Packers denied the accusations. In a statement to NBC News, it said that it has “an absolute company-wide prohibition against the employment of anyone under the age of 18 and zero tolerance for any violation of that policy — period.”
Packers also said it was surprised by the complaint because it claims to be cooperating with the investigation by providing important documents and responses.
A hearing has been set for Nov. 26 to decide whether the order will be dissolved, extended, or modified.