2006 Studying data protection again

Personal data: Panel looking at protection
Goh Chin Lian, Straits Times, 15 February 2006

Recommendations by mid-year after studying efficacy of privacy laws

A GOVERNMENT committee is studying how well Singapore laws protect the privacy of personal information. It aims to produce its recommendations by the middle of this year.

Members of the panel, which has representatives from 16 government agencies, visited Australia and Canada last month to see the impact of their data protection models on the economy and various organisations.

The details were given in Parliament yesterday by Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang in his reply to Nominated MP Ivan Png, who wanted to know if such privacy laws will be introduced.

Dr Lee acknowledged the importance of such protection, noting that infocomm technologies can be misused to obtain and distribute personal data that can harm the individual.

However, Singapore is not bare of protection. About 100 different laws exist to provide some form of shelter and there are strict provisions in such sectoral laws as the Banking Act and codes for medical professionals.

However, a wider perspective on data protection is needed although the lack of such specific laws has not affected business yet, said Dr Lee.

These laws are crucial to develop Singapore as a reliable information technology hub as well as build trust between consumers and businesses for the adoption of new technologies and services. These include electronic transactions and biometrics in which physical features such as the iris are used for identification.

The Government started examining the issue in November 2004 and formed the inter-ministry panel in October last year. It includes ministries such as Trade and Industry, Finance and Home Affairs, as well as the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Dr Lee agreed with Professor Png that laws enacted should be ‘technology neutral’ and provide the same protection to information given online or offline.

Prof Png also highlighted people’s concern, as expressed in letters to The Straits Times Forum page, about the privacy of identity card numbers being violated.

The complaints ranged from IC numbers being published in a magazine as part of contest results to security personnel scanning the identity card and storing the details in a computer.

Dr Lee said his ministry advised Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp in September last year to refrain from publishing IC numbers in full in their advertisements.

The media, he added, is ‘generally responsive’ although there is no law to compel it to do so.

Prof Png also noted that the Official Assignee – the office that administers bankruptcy cases – ‘still insists on publishing people’s full names and full IC numbers’.

Dr Lee said he will convey his concern to the Official Assignee.


Inter-ministry panel studying data protection

Daniel Buenas, Business Times, 15 February 2006

Report by mid-year on developing S’pore’s place as IT hub, boost trust

THE government has set up an inter-ministry subcommittee to review Singapore’s data protection regime, in a move to help develop the island’s position as an IT hub and boost trust between businesses and consumers, Information, Communications and the Arts Minister Lee Boon Yang told Parliament yesterday.

Dr Lee was responding to a question from Nominated MP Ivan Png on whether the Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) would introduce legislation to safeguard the privacy of personal information, and if so, when.

Dr Lee replied that Mica, with the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), began examining the issue in November 2004.

In October last year, Mica convened an inter-ministry sub-committee under the National Infocomm Security Committee to review data protection and assess various regulatory models.

‘A total of 16 government agencies . . . are represented on this committee,’ Dr Lee said. ‘The committee aims to submit its recommendations by the middle of this year.’

These recommendations may include issues relating to legislation, he said, adding that committee members went to Australia and Canada last month to study how these countries implement legal protection for personal information.

Dr Lee noted that Singapore already has strict provisions in place in sectoral laws – such as the Banking Act – and codes for medical professionals to protect sensitive health and financial information.

‘However, Mica appreciates the need to take a wider perspective on data protection,’ he said. ‘We recognise that an effective data protection regime will be an important pillar to develop Singapore’s position as a trusted IT hub. It will also be a critical factor in building trust between consumers and businesses for the adoption of new technologies and services.’

Dr Lee said in response to later parliamentary questions that Singapore’s call and data centre business has not experienced any ‘difficulty’ relating to the specific issue of data protection legislation.


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