The decision to require users to log in before they can leave comments at the government's feedback portal REACH is not meant to curtail freedom of expression.Singapore Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam made this point on Friday at a forum organised by the Straits Times.
From the middle of December, those who want to leave comments on the REACH portal will have to identify themselves.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that the move is aimed at encouraging a responsible online space.
Weighing in on the issue, Mr Shanmugam said Singaporeans should not feel uncomfortable identifying themselves online when they want to talk about government policies.
"Why should people be uncomfortable expressing their views on political and social issues? I can imagine they will be uncomfortable if they want to talk, say untruths, if they want to bully, if they want to, as often happens, distort the truth,” said Mr Shanmugam.
“I can imagine they are uncomfortable but if they are attacking policies, if they are expressing their views on policies, why should they be uncomfortable?"
He added that not all online forums are required to identify their users.
Mr Shanmugam said: "PM (Lee) wasn't suggesting that everyone has got to do it… PM's point is that he's going to ask REACH to do it and I think responsible, respectable sites which recognise that… sensible, hard, tough discussions can take place will follow suit.
"Some may not follow suit. I don't think from reading his speech that he was suggesting everyone has got to do it,” he added.
Some have said the new rules governing online news sites may also curtail freedom of speech.
But Mr Shanmugam said it has never been used for that purpose. When it has been used in the past, it was to act on pornographic sites or religious expression.
The government introduced a new licensing regime for online news sites in June.
Ten local news sites, which mainly belong to mainstream media, are now required to have individual licences. The sites will have to fork out a performance bond of S$50,000 and comply with any take-down notice from the authorities within 24 hours.
Mr Shanmugam said: "How will this be used? I think the best guide is to see how it has been used over the last 20 years. People forget that all these rules have been existing over the last 20 years.
"How has the minister used it for the last 20 years? I think it has been used 24 times -- 22 times when it was pornography and twice when it impacted on comments on other religion.
“So you have a very vibrant socio-political commentary going on online in Singapore. The minister, certainly this current minister, and his predecessors have never used that power or to take down.”
Mr Shanmugam added that the new rules are old rules because the take-down power was always there, and that the only new rule is the S$50,000 performance bond.
"If I went out there and said I've exercised this power to take down -- in the past 25 or 22 years -- 24 times and it's always related to porn and religious expression and it's never been exercised in any other way and what I'm now going to do is to allow to do it within 24 hours, who do you think will oppose?” he said.
“So you have a duty to put that out properly rather than this… spectre of this huge big government, big brother which has imposed all these new controls on the Internet and it's going to come out and snoop on everyone!"
The dialogue was attended by more than 400 thought leaders from the private and public sectors and included members of the public.