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Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) held its third annual data protection conference last week, bringing together about 600 data protection officers from throughout the island nation that is home to roughly four million citizens. 

The half-day event featured a series of panel discussions of high-level topics like establishing risk frameworks and the perils of big data, along with keynote addresses from the PDPC's Leong Keng Thai, New Zealand Privacy Commissioner John Edwards and Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore’s minister for communications and information.

The panel discussions featured a number of current and former IAPP board members, including President and CEO Trevor Hughes, CIPP, alongside local Singaporean academics and high-level administrators.

Most interesting, however, were the keynote addresses, which painted a picture of the regulatory environment in a country that this year celebrates just its 50th anniversary yet is among the world’s leaders in per capita income, has the highest percentage of millionaires in the world and has the highest ratio of trade to GDP in the world.

It is well and truly a financial hub of the world, so it should be no surprise that Minister Ibrahim declared in his address the country’s intention to be “a trusted environment for businesses and assume a position as a trusted data hub globally.”

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While Europe, for example, has human rights as the underpinnings of its data protection laws, Singapore isn’t shy about admitting its laws are about securing the country’s place in the global economic marketplace.

While Europe, for example, has human rights as the underpinnings of its data protection laws, Singapore isn’t shy about admitting its laws are about securing the country’s place in the global economic marketplace.

Commissioner Leong opened his address by noting the PDPC is tasked with helping companies “exploit the benefits of big data while still complying with the PDPA (Personal Data Protection Act),” for example. He also noted that when data breaches happen, “it is not only personal data that is lost. Reputations of individuals and organizations are involved as well.”

It should be no surprise then that the PDPC used their event to note the release of new tools and services geared toward helping companies comply with the new law, enacted two years ago and just having come into full force last July. First, the commission released a pair of guidelines for obtaining and withdrawing consent in marketing activities. Second, they released a guide to protecting data and managing a data breach.

The PDPC is particularly focused on helping SMEs comply with the law. “The commission will continue to support and conduct workshops on the PDPA,” Leong said, “with funding for the workshops up to 90 percent for SMEs. Since it started in June, about 3,000 people have benefited, and about 50 percent SMEs.”

Further, he reported 7,000 users have come to the commission’s web site in the last nine months to perform a self-assessment of knowledge of the act and take advantage of corporate training tools.

In fact, the commissioner announced that a survey shows more than 90 percent of Singaporean organizations said that they were aware of the requirements relating to data protection and more than 80 percent have some measures in place to comply, “such as keeping data in a secure matter and obtaining consent.”

Ninety percent agreed that the PDPA is beneficial for consumers, and 80 percent agree that it strengthens Singapore as a data hub and helps with improved corporate governance as a side effect.

“These are encouraging results,” Leong said.

As further evidence of the government’s commitment to compliance, Ibrahim also announced an agreement with the Law Society of Singapore, which has agreed to provide baseline assessments against the PDPA to SMEs free of charge, starting in June.

These kinds of efforts, said the minister, “are key enablers of our ambition to implement data analytics to provide more responsive services to Singaporeans.”

“Last year,” Leong noted, “the prime minister launched the Smart Nation initiative, to use technology so that Singaporeans can lead a better life, and we can be among the leading cities in the world.

“Our data protection framework must remain robust if we are to make that happen.”

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