Singapore's parliament has passed a controversial bill to prevent foreign interference by authorizing the government to control the internet such as by blocking content.
The Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act, which was passed with 75 legislators in support and 11 opposed at midnight Monday, sparked concern among opposition lawmakers, human rights activists and journalists about the possible abuse of power over information.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told parliament that the country needs the law to protect against hostile campaigns conducted by foreign countries online and through local proxies in Singapore.
"Information forces are seen as the fourth branch of armed service. This bill is about updating our powers to ensure they are fit for the internet age," he said.
The passing of the bill came after suspected Chinese attempts to influence opinion in Singapore in recent years.
The new law, which was passed three weeks after it was submitted to parliament, dominated by the ruling People's Action Party, will enable the government to order website and social media operators to provide user information and block content, in a bid to counter hostile communication activities of foreign origin.
However, the bill has triggered criticism among the public and the 11 legislators who voted were all from the opposition camp.
Pritam Singh, secretary general of Singapore's main opposition Workers' Party, called for judicial oversight to ensure the accountability of the authorities.
"If we accept that such broad-ranging, broadly defined powers should be legislated to deal with foreign interference, then this House must ensure the legislation of equally robust oversight mechanisms to prevent abuse of power," he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said in a statement that the passage of the law could give arbitrary power to the government to punish anyone based on allegations of involvement with foreigners.