1989-90 Studying data protection laws

Govt studying laws to protect personal data information

Lynette Ong, Straits Times, 22 May 1990

MOMENTUM is gathering here for the introduction of data protection laws to ensure greater individual privacy, as well as a higher standard of professionalism in the running of computerised databases in Singapore.

A high-level committee of lawyers has drawn up proposed legislation to protect the masses of personal information stored in computer databases here.

Associate Professor Chin Tet Yung, Chairman of the Technology and Law Sub-committee of the Singapore Academy of Law, said the proposal is now being studied by the National Computer Board.

If and when these laws are put in place, Singapore will be the only country in the Pacific Rim, other than Japan and Australia, having data protection legislation.

The proposal is also targeted to be released for public debate in July or August. Interested parties, including ministries, banks and credit card companies, will be invited to give their feedback.

Prof Chin said the proposed laws would give individuals the legal right to check and update the accuracy of personal data kept about them by institutions such as credit card companies, research firms, banks and government departments.

More importantly, such laws will give them the right to know what purpose th e data is used for and to seek legal redress by claiming compensation if the information is misused.

Prof Chin said the emergence of nationwide information networks, like TradeNet and MediNet, as well as inter-ministerial computer link-ups, are likely to lead to personal data being made publicly accessible. Hence, the need for protection against abuse.

The need for data protection laws also arises from Singapore’s aim to be an information resource centre in the 1990s. “These laws, if implemented, will ensure that the development of the databas e industry here is put on sound footing, with proper practices and safeguards in place.”

West European countries started implementing such laws back in 1973, said Prof Chin.

NCB is now studying the feasibility of the report and is looking into the non-legal implications of such laws, said Prof Chin. For example, foreign database operations wanting to shift their operations here may find these laws too restrictive.

Another issue that has to be ironed out is whether information kept by the Government for national security, criminal investigation and other purposes, should be exempted from the law.

Also, the costs of such laws on the computer industry will have to be looked into. For example, computer vendors may have to modify their software to make sure they come with extra security to protect databases.

The committee is also studying models used in other countries like Australia , the UK, Japan and Ireland.

In Parliament in March, Law and Home Affairs Minister Prof S. Jayakumar said an inter-ministerial committee had come out with a report recommending a separate, omnibus legislation to deal with computer crimes such as the wilful destruction or alteration of data and unauthorised access to computer systems or “hacking”.

The Technology and Law Sub-committee’s report on data protection is the development of that first inter-ministerial committee report.

This sub-committee is also now looking into the other area of computer crime. A draft report is scheduled to be ready by the end of the month. Prof Chin declined to give details of this report.

S’pore starts law reform exercise

Cheng Shoong Tat, Straits Times, 31 July 1989

A-G leads panel that includes a judge, academics, govt and private lawyers

SINGAPORE is embarking on a major, systematic law reform exercise to revise, modernise and update the country’s laws. The task is being done by the Law Revision and Reform Committee set up in January under the auspices of the Singapore Academy of Law. Attorney-General Tan Boon Teik chairs the 13-member committee, which includes a Supreme Court judge, senior government lawyers from the AG’s Chambers, law academics and senior lawyers in private practice.

The committee has set up six sub-committees on:

* TECHNOLOGY and the law. Headed by Prof Chin, it will look into matters such as the protection of computer data, computer crime and computer software copyright and review experiences abroad, particularly in France, which is very advanced in these areas;
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