As we navigate into our new reality where high resolution digital cameras get increasingly smaller and easier to hide, and with social media and instant messaging conversations buzzing with terabytes of visual content from photos and videos every minute, they open a whole new domain for potential criminal acts that might happen, especially against vulnerable communities like minors. 

In our previous articles in this series, we covered consent, definition of minors and commercial sex. In this article, we’ll explain how the Act 15 of 2019 amendments to the law will deal with the possession and distribution of voyeuristic images in Singapore.

Hidden Cameras and Dirty Secrets

Over the past few years, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of sexual offences globally involving hidden cameras, with the resulting footage either being uploaded on to pornographic websites without the victim’s knowledge, or used as ransom for blackmail. 

In fact, in 2019, South Korea experienced the Burning Sun scandal when numerous top celebrities were exposed, as part of a large scale syndicate that involved secretly recorded sex videos distributed without the victims’ consent. The scandal became such a huge talking point that the term ‘Molka’ was coined to describe the phenomenon.

Will This Ever Happen in Singapore?

The unfortunate reality is that it has already happened in Singapore, and remains a problem. 

The same year Korea was dealing with Molka, a scandal involving a Telegram channel started by Singaporeans with an estimated 44,000 members called ‘SG Nasi Lemak’ made the news for the same reasons. While the perpetrators in Singapore weren’t celebrities in their own right, the case highlighted the growing problem of voyeurism — the recording and distribution of obscene videos in Singapore and the lack of protection for victims, mostly schoolgirls, against such acts — which led to the Act 15 of 2019 Amendment.

What Are The New Safeguards in Place?

In our previous article, we explained voyeurism and outrage of modesty. For this portion, we will look at Section 377BC – Distribution of voyeuristic image or recording.

According to the law, if a person intentionally or knowingly distributes an obscene image or recording of another person without their consent, the person will have committed an offence. In deeper detail, what “knowingly” means is that the person is aware, or has reasons to believe that the recording was made without the victim’s consent, like hidden camera footage from a hotel room or a toilet cubicle, but still đecides to distribute the video.

Examples of distribution may include the sharing of obscene videos on chat applications like Telegram and Whatsapp, or any other instant messaging service, as well as sharing links to such videos online, or even in public, by transferring the files from one device to another by either a wireless connection, or a USB drive.

The punishment, if found guilty of any offence under this section, is a jail term of up to 5 years, or a fine, or caning. If the victim is below the age of 14, then it will be a jail term of up to 5 years, with a fine, or a combination including caning. 

What Can You Do if You Stumble Upon an Obscene Recording of a Familiar Person?

In the event that you, or someone you know, is in a situation where an obscene recording is making its rounds with the potential to cause humiliation, alarm or distress to the person, then it’s important to make a police report immediately and not to distribute it any further. You may also contact a lawyer if you are unsure of what to do next.

Possession of, or gaining access to such material after knowing, or having reason to believe the video was recorded or released without the victim’s permission, is an offence which is punishable by up to 2 years in prison, with a possible fine. Caning may be included if the victim was below 14.

Such materials may also include photographs or video recordings, or in any other visual format in a digital file such as MP4 and MOV videos, or JPG and PNG image files, or in any other file format that can be saved in an electronic device and viewed on like a phone or tablet, and transferred between devices either through an app or a physical drive. If a stranger decides to show you an obscene image from their phone in a public place, they will have committed an offence. 

Distributing or Threatening to Distribute Intimate Image or Recording

Also known as ‘revenge porn’, a form of blackmail, the act of distributing or just threatening someone that an intimate image or recording will be distributed without their consent, with the knowledge that the material will cause humiliation, alarm or distress is an offence that will be punishable by up to 5 years in prison, which may include a fine, and caning. 

Intimate image, according to the law, can also refer to:

  • A still photograph, or a video;
  • Someone’s genital or anal region, covered or not; 
  • Breasts, if female, covered or not; 
  • Performing a private act;
  • Superimposed image of a person’s face on another person performing a sexual act to make it seem like the act involved the former.

If you encounter any such incidents, make a police report immediately. In our next part of this series on sexual offences and the new laws to address them, we will explain the legal definition of child abuse material and exploitative relationships.

Engaging a Lawyer

If you are currently in a situation that requires mediation or legal advice, it’s best to consult a lawyer who will be able to guide you through your options.

Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Corporation has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years from traffic offences, high-profile criminal cases – to family and divorce matters. With a vast knowledge of Singapore’s laws and a wealth of experience, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, feel free to contact us for a consultation.