A Woodgrove resident in his late 60s lost nearly $800,000 of his and his wife’s life savings to an impersonation scam. The couple had meant to use the savings for their retirement.
A young Macpherson resident lost money to fraudulent transactions on her credit card when she did not receive or provide anyone with the one-time password (OTP). She was made to pay for the transactions even though there was no evidence of her ever receiving the OTP.
In another instance, a young undergraduate staying in Changi Simei fell prey to a part-time job scam that led to his identity being used without his knowledge for unethical business.
These are just some of the cases that our Members of Parliament (MPs) have encountered. The Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Communications and Information believed that more needs to be done.
Hence, MP Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC) – who chairs the GPC – has, together with four other MPs, filed a motion to advocate for a safe and inclusive digital society for all Singaporeans.
“As we welcome the opportunities that come with a digital future, we must confront challenges that could erode our trust in institutions and individuals pivotal to Singapore’s success and cohesion,” said Ms Tin in an interview with Petir.sg.
The other GPC MPs who filed the motion comprised Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC), Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Alex Yam and Hany Soh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC).
MP Tin pointed out that the digital landscape is becoming increasingly perilous, marked by the surge in online harms such as scams and other malicious cyber activities. “The global AI arms race and heightened competition among technology companies will increase social disparities and further exacerbate the digital divide in our population,” she added.
Singapore has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world (99 per cent), which means that Singaporeans are more susceptible to online threats, she noted. Moreover, if essential services are affected, the public’s trust in digital transactions would be affected, she cautioned.
Moving the Motion in Parliament today (Jan 10), MP Tin explained the need to build a safe and inclusive digital society in Singapore. A safe online environment is crucial for building trust because it influences people’s confidence and willingness to engage in digital transactions. Meanwhile, inclusivity ensures that the benefits of digitalisation are accessible to all.
MP Tin outlined 13 calls to action that the GPC and several of our MPs — Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang SMC), Nadia Ahmad Samdin and Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mariam Jaafar and Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) and Wan Rizal (Jalan Besar GRC) — have set out. They urge a whole-of-nation approach to make the online space safer and more inclusive for all Singaporeans.
The CTAs focus on a few areas. They include getting the Government to do more to protect Singaporeans against online scams and harmful content, for relevant stakeholders to take on a more equitable share of responsibility, ensuring digital inclusion and for individuals to play their part.
MP Tin told the House that the Government could do more to lead in some areas, in terms of getting corporations and private entities to share more information, for example, intelligence to enable faster detection and intervention. MP Vikram also suggested the government pass legislation to put adequate risk on industry players so that they would also take measures to fight scams. “I believe this form of financially aligned industry collaboration sounds like a sensible approach,” he added.
Next, the Government could further integrate expertise and prioritise resources to regulate and enforce online safety too. MP Yip suggested a centralised agency by the Government to manage the support networks and helplines since accountability becomes unclear with multiple agencies involved. He also called on the Government to improve Singapore’s infrastructure and cyber resilience. Dr Tan called on the Government to double down its investments in capabilities for artificial intelligence (AI) to make Singapore a tech powerhouse.
On getting corporations to take on a more equitable share of the responsibility, the GRC proposed that device manufacturers and digital service providers strengthen safeguards against malware. “This will be a win-win situation for companies because greater transparency and evident efforts in enhancing safe use will bolster customer confidence and drive sales, “MP Tin said in Parliament.
Banks and e-commerce platforms with their powerful tech capabilities have a responsibility to keep their customers’ accounts secure and should adopt phishing-resistant authentication, she added.
MP Soh and MP Yip suggested reviewing the approach to victims of scam by unauthorised transactions, with larger players doing more to prevent losses and share consequences.
For MP Yip, placing the blame solely on such scam victims is unfair when losses often stem from vulnerabilities within the system. “Larger players, from telcos to banks and app developers, must share responsibility and invest in robust security measures,” he said.
MP Soh pointed out that banks could adopt anti-phishing solutions, improve authenticity verifications, and be extra vigilant towards abnormal transactions to keep accounts secure and prevent the likelihood of scams.
Several MPs also suggested that social media services should be held accountable for the proliferation of harmful content and malicious advertisements,
Platforms and apps to step up age assurance measures to better protect young users from harmful content
Both MP Nadia and MP Wan Rizal called on platforms and apps operators to step up age assurance measures to better protect young users from harmful content. MP Nadia suggested having in place better age verification and restrictions. MP Wan Rizal urged social media services to ensure that flagged harmful content is acted upon promptly.
Ensuring that no one is denied
of essential services
Several MPs also highlighted the importance of requiring essential service providers to ensure accessibility for all. MP Tan told Petir.sg that Singapore adopts a digital-first but not digital-only strategy, ensuring that those who may not be comfortable with using digital technologies not be excluded from essential services. “Ensuring access to essential services for the vulnerable and those that are not digitally savvy is important to ensure no one is denied of essential services,” she shared.
The GPC and MPs also called for corporates and community organisations to promote awareness of essential digital skills and partner public sector to help close digital skill gaps. MP Sharael highlighted the importance of ensuring that our education system provides essential digital skills as early as at primary and secondary school levels. To do so would mean identifying skills such as basic robotics, applied AI, cybersecurity and digital wellness to be included as core curriculum in primary and secondary schools. This would ensure that children from lower-income families would not be unduly disadvantaged in the future economy. MP Mariam asked the Government to explore AI literacy in early childhood education, so that young children could explore AI related concepts and develop their digital and AI literacy.
Separately, MP Soh asked Monetary Authority of Singapore to consider working with banks and insurance companies to introduce an insurance scheme akin to the concept of Deposit Insurance Scheme. Under such a scheme, anyone with a bank account can protect their monies if they fall prey to an online scam.
On educating our young and old on digital literacy, scams and online harms, MP Darryl David proposed implementing target-based upstream preventive education in schools and communities to inoculate Singaporeans, especially women and children against online harms.
MP Sharael proposed strengthening efforts to establish future-ready workplaces for a more digitally-savvy workforce. To do so, he said that we must rethink the definition of employment. This will encourage flexible work arrangements to unlock the potential of digitally abled young seniors, persons with disabilities, and back to work mothers. Such arrangements will foster inclusivity.
Everyone can play his or her part in making Singapore’s digital society safe and inclusive
Finally, the GPC believed that all of us could work together to make Singapore’s digital society safe and inclusive.
MP Jessica Tan said in Parliament, “We do need to remind ourselves that what we do to protect ourselves in our physical interactions should also be practiced digitally… Otherwise, no matter what measures and legislation are in place to improve digital safety and security, they would not be able to protect us in our digital transactions. We all must do our part.”
As Singapore continues to advance towards a digital society, MP Tin urged public and private stakeholders to collaborate as a whole-of-nation to manage the risks, address the challenges and help one another thrive in the digital future.
The House supported the Motion.