A Minister in the Singapore government has suggested the creation of an internet kill switch that would prevent minors from reading questionable material online – perhaps using ratings of content created in real time by crowdsourced contributors.
“The post-COVID world will bring new challenges globally, including to us in the security arena,” said Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at a Tuesday ceremony to award the city-state’s 2021 Defense Technology Prize.
“For operations, the SAF (Singapore Armed Force) has to expand its capabilities in the digital domain. Whether for administrative or operational purposes, I think that we will need to leverage technology to the maximum,” he declared.
Among his ideas for better use of tech were self-cleaning buildings, the ability to handle classified work nearer to home, and improved remote teaching.
The broad-ranging speech also included some ideas on how to deal with misinformation distributed online.
“We need a tool to grade any piece of information on the net in real time,” he opined. “It could be crowdsourced like Wikipedia, for its accuracy.”
His next idea was “real-time guidance for minors who are very impressionable as they surf the net.”
The Minister envisioned “a warning alarm or kill switch” that would be invoked when minors are detected reading dodgy content.
“So you read about the recent example. Someone radicalised on the net, bought weapons on the net, all by himself,” the Minister explained. “If you have a tool where you have a ‘blinking light’ that this is in-force and if he is searching for a tool for weapons on the net, a kill switch.”
The Minister rated the chances of such a kill switch being built as low.
“But of course, commercial companies are struggling with it and part of the sensationalism and echo chambers drive profits and they have to make that decision between profit and social responsibility,” he lamented.
He’s also not keen on requirements for repeated authentication – like basically everybody else.
“I wish my devices and screens do not black out so often and I have to repeat giving my password. They should be able to recognise me instantly or weed out imposters,” he said.
The Minister’s suggestions were not policy prescriptions. He described them as “we need and if onlys” – the kind of maybe-impractical idea that sparks innovation.
Singapore has, however, taken recent steps that address some of the issues addressed in the speech. Earlier this month parliament passed the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021 (FICA). The Act gives the Minister for Home Affairs the authority to investigate individuals suspected of being foreign agents engaged in “hostile information campaigns”.
Through FICA, third parties like online platforms, ISPs and websites may be compelled to block certain accounts or content in Singapore if they express political positions felt to represent opposition to the nation’s policies. The law also allows the government to name people as “Politically Significant Persons” if they conduct activities felt to have a political purpose. Being named as such a person brings with it obligations to disclose any donations received or eligibility for migration to another country.
Critics of the law have claimed the language used in FICA is too broad and lacks judicial oversight. However, it does not feature a kill switch. ®