Is Stalking a Person Online Illegal in Singapore?
Ever been repeatedly contacted by someone on social media even though you told them to stop, perhaps to the point where you felt distressed? You may well have been a victim of online stalking.
In today’s digitally connected world, more and more of our personal information can be found online. Unfortunately, this can lead to cases of online stalking and/or harassment.
For example, in one case, a former NUS student was jailed for stalking a woman online, and then in person. Amongst other things, the offender had illicitly gained access to the woman’s Telegram account, monitored her private conversations, and sent her multiple messages telling her not to respond to her boyfriend’s messages.
This is just one example of the many ways in which online stalking can occur. If you are or have been a victim of online stalking in Singapore, read on to find out:
Is Stalking a Person Online Illegal in Singapore?
In short, online stalking is illegal in Singapore. “Unlawful stalking” is an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), and this includes both physical and online stalking.
What Is Considered Online Stalking?
Unlawful (online) stalking is a “course of conduct” that:
- Involves acts or omissions associated with stalking;
- Causes harassment, alarm or distress; and
- The perpetrator intends, or knows is likely, to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
A “course of conduct” generally means that the stalking conduct must occur multiple times as compared to only once. However, even if the stalking occurred on only one occasion, it can still be considered a “course of conduct” if the conduct occurred over a prolonged period of time, or if the accused person has a previous conviction for unlawful stalking against the same victim.
Examples of online stalking include:
- Keeping someone under surveillance online, e.g. monitoring their social media status or private conversations on messaging applications
- Making unwanted attempts to contact someone on social media platforms and messaging applications (e.g. iMessage or WhatsApp), even after being blocked
Offences and Penalties Relevant to Online Stalking in Singapore
A person who is convicted for the offence of unlawful stalking will face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or an imprisonment term of up to 12 months. These maximum penalties are doubled for repeat offenders.
In many cases, online stalkers may also commit other unlawful acts such as physical stalking or harassment. Beyond the offence of stalking, other relevant offences may include those under the POHA and the Computer Misuse Act, such as:
- Causing harassment, alarm or distress,
- Doxxing (i.e. publishing the personal information of a person to harass, threaten or facilitate violence against them), or
- Unauthorised access to computer material.
For example, in the abovementioned case of the NUS student, the offender was also charged under the Computer Misuse Act and had one charge of criminal trespass taken into consideration in sentencing. These charges arose due to his entering the woman’s room on campus to get a verification code on her phone. He then used the verification code to log into her Telegram account and access her Telegram conversations.
Enhanced penalties also apply where the victim is in an intimate relationship with the offender or is considered to be a vulnerable person. (A “vulnerable person” is a person who is substantially unable to protect himself from abuse, e.g. minors or persons with mental or physical disabilities.) In such cases, the maximum penalties for unlawful stalking are doubled.
What if The Stalker Is Based Overseas, or I Don’t Know Their Identity?
Some cases can involve stalkers who are based overseas. Fortunately, even if the stalker is overseas, Singapore courts have can prosecute the stalker under POHA if the victim was in Singapore when the stalking acts occurred.
If the identity of the stalker is unknown, for example they have contacted you through an anonymous account, it is still possible to apply to court for a Protection Order against the stalker. The court can make the Protection Order by identifying the stalker based on unique identifiers such as an internet location address or website.
For example, if you are being stalked by an anonymous Facebook user, you can obtain a Protection Order against the stalker and then serve notice of this order to the stalker through their Facebook account via email and/or a private Facebook message.
If the stalker flouts the order, they will be committing an offence. You can then lodge a police report and/or apply for a follow-up order to trace the anonymous person.
What Can I Do if I’m Being Stalked Online?
If you believe that you are being stalked online, the first few things you should do are to:
- Gather evidence of the online stalking (e.g. screenshots, photos or recordings). This is important if you want to apply for a Protection Order because you will need to provide evidence of the alleged stalking acts. The evidence you have gathered will also help to show the police that stalking has occurred, and/or assist in their investigation when you make a police report later.
- Block and report the perpetrator’s accounts on all the platforms on which they are contacting you. This is unless you feel that it is unsafe for you to do so, e.g. if the stalker knows your physical location and threatens to escalate their behaviour if you block them.
Next, consider making a police report, especially if you believe you are in danger.
You may also wish to apply for a Protection Order against the perpetrator to protect you from further instances of stalking. The order may prohibit the offender from continuing their communication or behaviour, or require them to attend counselling or mediation.
Non-compliance with a Protection Order is an offence. If the perpetrator does not comply with the order, you can make a police report and they may be arrested.
Lastly, remember to seek support from people you trust or from professionals such as counsellors or psychiatrists if you need it. If you are below 16 years old, speak to a trusted adult and let them know what has happened. They can help with any follow-up actions you choose to take, such as making a police report or filing a Protection Order.
Being a victim of online stalking can be highly distressing, and you should not hesitate to seek help if you need it. Be assured that online stalking is illegal in Singapore and that there are steps you can take if you are being stalked online. This is even if the stalker may be based overseas or is anonymous.
If you are unsure of the process for obtaining a Protection Order, or need legal advice on dealing with an online stalker, you may wish to consult a harassment lawyer for assistance. A harassment lawyer can advise you on the best courses of action for your situation. The lawyer can also help increase your chances of successfully applying for a Protection Order by ensuring that the proper forms are used and that the relevant evidence is presented before the court.