SINGAPORE: The act of “doxxing”, which involves the publishing of someone’s personal information such as their photos, contact numbers or employment details with the intention to harass, will be criminalised under proposed changes to the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).
The amendments, which were tabled in Parliament on Monday (Apr 1), are meant to enhance protection for victims of harassment and falsehoods, and to make it easier for victims to obtain remedies.
The act was enacted in 2014 to provide a range of criminal and civil remedies against harassment, and civil remedies for false statements of facts. Since it came into force in November 2014, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) says many people have benefitted from the civil and criminal measures it provides, with more than 1,700 prosecutions and over 3,000 Magistrate’s Complaints filed.
More than 500 people have stepped forward to make applications for Protection Orders.
However, MinLaw added that it has received feedback from those who have relied on remedies under POHA that the court processes can be further streamlined and simplified. Additionally, new social trends, such as sharing people’s personal information so as to harass them online, and the viral spread of falsehoods to harm individuals, have emerged over the last few years.
INCREASING TREND OF “DOXXING”, ONLINE VIGILANTISM
MinLaw said that there has been an increasing trend in recent years of an individual’s personal information being consolidated and published online, with a view to harassing the person. Often, it said, this arises in the context of online vigilantism.
One recent example of such online vigilantism was a dispute involving a Go-Jek driver and his passenger, which was recorded and posted online. In the video, the passenger could be heard accusing the driver of trying to “cheat” her after he took a route that passed an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry and required her to pay a fee.
The video went viral online, with netizens reacting with outrage at the passenger, some of whom named and shamed her online.
In another recent incident which had also gone viral, the driver of a BMW vehicle had allegedly refused to pay S$135 for his petrol at a Caltex service station, because he said he had only asked for S$10 worth. The elderly pump attendant then informed the cashier to let the driver pay S$10, and he would personally absorb the rest of the cost.
Following the incident, the driver had to file a police report, citing fears for his safety after receiving many nuisance calls, SMSes and WhatsApp messages.
READ: Caltex petrol station incident a 'miscommunication', say police; BMW driver files police report
The amendments will ban the publication of such personal information when it is done with the intention to harass the victim, or cause violence. It fills a gap in Singapore’s existing laws, which only ban intentional harassment if it assumes the form of threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour or communication, MinLaw said.
However, posting someone’s personal information online with the intention to harass or cause violence can be considered a form of deliberate harassment, even if threatening words were not used.
Perpetrators of “doxxing” could face a fine of up to S$5,000 or a jail term of up to 6 months if the intention was to cause harassment, or 12 months if they intended to cause fear or provoke violence.
The amendments will also provide recourse to entities who are victims of falsehoods, MinLaw said, explaining that a corporate entity’s reputation can be ruined in days if falsehoods about the entity are allowed to go unchecked.
The scope of orders which can be made in relation to falsehoods will also be expanded with the amendments, the ministry said, with the courts empowered to make a range of orders to better protect victims of falsehoods.
Furthermore, given the fact that false statements can go viral extremely quickly, MinLaw added that the courts will also be empowered to make relevant interim orders to provide victims with urgent relief.
NEW SPECIALISED COURT TO PROVIDE ONE-STOP SOLUTION FOR VICTIMS OF HARASSMENT
As part of the amendments, a new Protection from Harassment Courts (PHC) will also be set up, MinLaw said, with the intention of providing a one-stop solution for victims to receive holistic and effective relief.
The new court will be a specialised court with oversight over all criminal and civil matters under POHA. It will also adopt simplified procedures with expedited timelines for certain types of applications, including claims for damages up to S$20,000 as well as applications for Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders.
These simplified procedures will allow claims, Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders to be filed using a straightforward claim form, instead of requiring an Originating Summons as is the case currently.
The PHC will also not be bound by the rules of evidence in the conduct of civil proceedings.
It aims to hear applications for Expedited Protection Orders within 48 to 72 hours of the application, or 24 hours if there is actual violence or a risk of violence.
STRENGTHENED PROTECTION FOR VICTIMS OF HARASSMENT AND RELATED PERSONS
With the amendments, protection afforded by Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders will be enhanced. Protection will be extended to persons related to the victim, such as the victim’s family members or children, as they are also often at risk of violence from the harasser, said the ministry.
The amendments will also clarify that domestic exclusion orders can also be granted as part of a Protection Order. Such orders restrain the respondent from entering the applicant’s residence or parts of the residence, and will ensure better protection for victims who may live in the same place as their harasser, MinLaw said.
Expedited Protection Orders will also remain in effect until the Protection Order hearing is concluded, MinLaw added.
Under the amendments, the recourse for breaches of Protection Orders and Expedited Protection Orders will be strengthened. For example, such breaches will be deemed arrestable offences in some circumstances, such as where there is hurt or continued harassment.
Community orders can also be made for breaches of Protection Orders.
There will also be enhanced penalties in areas where greater deterrence is warranted to deal with harassment-related conduct.
First, the existing penalties for offences against vulnerable persons such as those with mental or physical disabilities will be enhanced, to match those which have been introduced recently by the Criminal Law Reform Bill.
Enhanced penalties are also proposed to deal with offences against victims in an intimate partner relationship - whether dating or married.
The amendments also clarifies that entities can be held liable for harassment-related behaviour. MinLaw explained that they have received feedback about institutionalised harassment against victims, such as by debt collectors.