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Singapore: Parliament Passes Data Protection Bill
Source: channelnewsasia.com
Source Date: Monday, October 15, 2012
Focus: Information Access, Health
Country: Singapore
Created: Oct 16, 2012

SINGAPORE: More safeguards for private information are in place, now that Singapore has passed a new consumer protection law.

The Data Protection Bill was passed in Parliament on Monday, after a lengthy debate where 14 Members of Parliament took to the stand.

Organisations have 18 months to adjust to the new Personal Data Protection Act, starting January 2013 before rules come into force.

A Personal Data Protection Commission will be set up to enforce and oversee matters relating to the new Act.

It can impose fines of up to S$1 million for every data protection offence, and penalties of up to S$10,000 for every unsolicited marketing call or message to a number in the "Do Not Call" registry.

The Commission will also focus on educating consumers and businesses on the Act when it comes into play, and devise compliance guidelines to help organisations understand the law's requirements.

Lawyer Rajesh Sreenivasan said the guidelines need to be jargon-free and "clearly set out". "There should be clear timelines; people need to know how they can submit a complaint and how the complaint will be addressed," he said.

The Act covers all private sector organisations engaged in data activities within Singapore.

The public sector is not governed by the new law, as it already has its own data protection rules which are stricter than the new law in some cases.

The Act tells firms to seek consent before collecting and using people's private information.

Individuals have to be informed of the purposes for which companies seek to obtain and disclose personal data.

Exceptions to the law apply in the case of investigations, medical emergencies, and data that are collected for news activities.

The new law will also see the setting up of a national "Do Not Call" registry.

The registry is expected to be ready for public sign-up in early 2014.

People can register their phone numbers if they do not wish to be contacted by businesses for commercial purposes.

Companies will be prohibited from sending marketing messages to Singapore telephone numbers on the "Do Not Call" registry, unless they have clear and unambiguous consent from the owners.

In the first six months of the registry's setup, consumers can expect not to receive unwanted telemarketing calls or messages after 60 days of registering their numbers.

Once this six-month period ends, they can expect not to receive such unwanted calls or messages after 30 days of registering.

If the calls or messages persist, consumers can lodge complaints.

The Act came into its present form after three rounds of public consultation by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, which garnered close to 1,900 responses.

As a result of this process, unsolicited business-to-business marketing calls have been exempted from the law, following feedback.

Previously, such calls were meant to be also governed by the new Act.

During consultation, organisations also called for the data commission to have a provision to reconsider its decisions, which has now been provided for under the Act.

The Act is meant to provide minimum information safeguards for consumers, and does not override existing data regulations in sectors like banking and telecommunications.

Singapore now joins places like New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong, which already have similar information protection laws.

"The Personal Data Protection Bill will strengthen Singapore's overall competitiveness, and enhance our status as a trusted hub and choice location for global data management and processing services," said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts.

"It will also address growing concerns over the misuse of personal data and provide much needed protection for individuals in Singapore."
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