The Dark Web: What is the Legality of It in Singapore

man surfing the dark web

What is the Dark Web? 

The dark web (also known as the “deep web”) is a “collection of thousands of websites that use anonymity tools” to hide their IP addresses. Such tools include masking software which dark web users typically use to mask their location and thus their identities as well.

Who Uses the Dark Web and For What Purposes?

Some users may be using the dark web to gain information anonymously, or browse illicit websites. The dark web allows access to a variety of websites including anonymous forums or pornography websites. It also acts as an alternative news media for users to gain information that may not be accessible on the public web.

Some of these forums are only open to selected persons who have registered as members of the websites. This is because such forums may wish to maintain exclusivity and ensure that only trusted persons can access their information.

On the other hand, other dark web users may be taking advantage of the anonymity available on the dark web to engage in illegal transactions.

Dark web websites also provide platforms that can be used for conducting transactions such as the purchase of stolen information, drugs or contraband items. Payments are often made using cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, or private currencies like Monero.

The following infographic is a quick summary of the dark-web related offences in Singapore and options for victims of the dark web in seeking redress:

dark web infographic

Legality of the Dark Web in Singapore

In Singapore, it is not illegal to access the dark web. However, carrying out transactions that pertain to illegal items such as stolen information, drugs or human organs are illegal.

Below is a list of the common dark web-related offences:

Dark web-related offences Case Example Penalty
Section 8A of the Computer Misuse Act criminalises the obtaining or supplying of stolen personal information. In August 2019, an estimated 3.7 million customer records were put up for sale on the dark web, where it was believed that these records came from a recent data leak at multinational beauty retailer Sephora. Fine up to $10,000 or imprisonment term up to 3 years, or both.

On second or subsequent conviction:

Fine up to $20,000 or imprisonment term up to 5 years, or both.

Section 370 of the Penal Code criminalises the buying or disposing of any person as a slave. In Rome, a British model was abducted for the purpose of being actioned off as a sex slave on the dark web in August 2017. Imprisonment term of up to 7 years and a fine. (if the incident occurred in Singapore)
Section 14 Human Organ Transplant Act criminalises the buying or selling of organs or blood. In September 2008, a Singaporean was sentenced to one day in jail and fined $17,000 for his attempt to purchase a kidney from an Indonesian (although not via the dark web). A fine of up to $10,000 or to an imprisonment term of up to 12 months, or both.
Section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act criminalises the trafficking of drugs in Singapore. In Singapore, if someone orders someone else to transport any controlled drug (i.e. drugs that are regulated by law) whether within or outside of Singapore, that would be considered drug trafficking. Depending on the class and quantity of the drugs:

Ranges from imprisonment and strokes of cane to the mandatory death penalty.

Section 115 of the Penal Code criminalises conduct where a person instigates another person to commit an illegal offence punishable with death or life imprisonment. In May 2018, a Singaporean went on the dark web to hire a hitman to murder his former lover’s boyfriend in a staged car accident. Imprisonment of up to 7 years and a fine.

If the act caused hurt to any person:

Imprisonment of up to 14 years and a fine.

What Can Victims of Certain Activities on the Dark Web Do?

If you have knowledge of any dark web activities that may threaten your life or property (such as your personal information being stolen and put up on the dark web), there are certain actions that you can take.

Apply for a Protection Order (PO)

You can apply for a Protection Order (PO) under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) if the perpetrator makes any threatening, abusive or insulting communication on the dark web that cause harassment, alarm or distress to you. This could include the perpetrator attempting to sell your personal data or publishing your personal information.

The PO is a court order that protects victims from harassment that has occurred in the past or that is likely to occur in the future. Under a PO, the court can order the perpetrator to stop publishing the relevant communication.

POs can be applied for even if the perpetrator’s identity cannot be determined. Where possible however, victims should record any information they have access to in order to assist in the identification of the perpetrator.

Such information could include the perpetrator’s username or account or email address should their IP addresses be unavailable. This may include taking screenshots of all the relevant communications.

But even if the perpetrator cannot be traced as yet, the PO may be posted on the internet website specified by the court. Ideally, the perpetrator will remove the offending communication upon seeing the PO. If the perpetrator flouts the order, the victim may apply to the court for a follow-up order to trace and arrest the perpetrator.

Make a police report

In any case, the victim should lodge a police report. If there is a possibility that the perpetrator has committed a criminal offence, the police may investigate and possibly take action.

File a Magistrate’s Complaint

If the police does not take any action, the victim may make a Magistrate’s Complaint. This is part of the private prosecution process, which is a criminal proceeding that is initiated by an individual (rather than the State) to take criminal action against the perpetrator.

Upon receiving the complaint, the Duty Magistrate may direct the police to investigate the matter. The police might decide not to take action if there is insufficient evidence to show that there is an offence, or if they take the view that there is no offence.

Alternatively, the Duty Magistrate may decide to issue a summons against the perpetrator. In this situation, you will be able to proceed with a private prosecution.

You may consider hiring a lawyer to assist with gathering evidence and drafting the criminal charge(s) against the perpetrator. Upon which, your lawyer may conduct the prosecution on your behalf to convince the court that the perpetrator is guilty of the charge(s).

The authorities have been maintaining an on-going effort to trace dark web offences and the identities of anonymous perpetrators lurking on the dark web. This includes improving the ability of law enforcement agencies to fight such crimes by making use of the latest technology.

If you are a victim of an offence facilitated by the dark web, you are encouraged to seek redress via the options mentioned above, or seek the assistance of a criminal lawyer.