Computer Crime Research Center


Internet law - fighting computer crime in Singapore

Date: April 01, 2008
By: Staff Attorneys

he Government of Singapore has devoted significant effort to combating computer crime. It passed legislation in 1993 and periodically amends this legislation as needed. It has created new agencies and given its law enforcement personnel greater powers in its fight against these crimes. This article provides an overview of the Law on Computer Crimes in Singapore.
A 2006 study by independent author Jolly John identified Singapore as “the most network ready country” in the world. This has lead to both a proliferation of computer-based crime in Singapore and to efforts by the Singaporean government to combat such crime. The primary tool for law enforcement officials in Singapore is the Computer Misuse Act which was passed in 1993 and has been amended four times, as recently as 2005.

Singapore has chosen to follow the model of the United Kingdom by enacting legislation that addresses computer crime and utilizing the existing Penal Code for cyber crime. Computer crime is dealt with in Singapore’s Computer Misuse Act. This law prohibits the obtaining of unauthorized access to computer material, modifying the contents of a computer, obtaining or intercepting any computer service or function, interfering with or obstructing the lawful use of a computer, impeding or preventing access to or impairing the usefulness or effectiveness of any computer program or data, or disclosing a password, access code, or other means of gaining access to a program or data.

Professor Warren Chik, a Singaporean law professor states, in a 2006 paper comparing cyber crime laws in the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore, that Singapore adopted four approaches in combating computer crime. These are:

1) Passing new legislation that creates crimes where activity warrants it;

2) Imposing severe penalties as punishment and as deterrents;

3) Providing law enforcement agencies with additional powers, granting them extra-territorial jurisdiction, and creating new agencies with specially trained experts to deal with this technological crimes;

4) Making it a crime to abet or even to attempt to perpetrate computer crimes.

The agencies created to fight computer crime in Singapore include the Computer Crimes Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department, the Computer Forensics Branch of the Singapore Police, and the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team. The creation of these specialized units was deemed necessary as a result of the ever more sophisticated nature of the technology involved in such crimes.

What is “computer crime” and what is “cyber crime”?
Computer crime involves acts that attack the functions of a computer, access to a computer or the Internet, and similar items. They might be called “cyber-trespass”. They are viewed as crimes against a computer. Examples of these crimes are hacking, denying another access to Internet usage, and sending unsolicited or virus-causing electronic mail. Cyber crime, on the other hand, is traditional crime such as fraud, theft, extortion, and the like in which the computer is used as an instrument of the crime. These acts are traditional crimes that are facilitated through the use of a computer.

How has Singapore addressed these two types of crime?
In 1993, Singapore passed the Computer Misuse Act (Chapter 50A of the Singapore Statutes), which it has amended four times, as recently as 2005. This Act addresses computer crimes and provides for stiff penalties for the violation of the law. It has applied its existing Penal Code provisions for activities that are deemed cyber crime. For example, the release of a virus would fall under the jurisdiction of the Computer Misuse Act, whereas an economic crime (e.g. extortion or securities fraud) would fall under the aegis of the Penal Code.

What are the penalties for conviction of computer crime in Singapore?
Most of the provisions of the Computer Misuse Act carry a maximum fine up to $10,000 Singaporean dollars and/or imprisonment up to three years for a first offense. For the second and subsequent offenses, the penalty is a fine up to $20,000 Singaporean dollars and/or imprisonment up to five years. If there was damage caused as a result of the crime, the penalty is a fine up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment up to seven years. If the crime involved a threat to Singapore’s security, or to the banking or other financial, communications, or transportation industries, or to public services including utilities, safety, police, civil defense, or medicine, the penalty is a fine up to $100,000 Singaporean dollars and/or imprisonment up to 20 years.

In what other manner is Singapore fighting computer crime?
Singapore has created new law enforcement agencies with specially trained personnel to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology and the resulting proliferation of computer-based crimes. It has given its police force additional powers, including extra-territorial jurisdiction to aid in their efforts at apprehending computer-based criminals.

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