The well-being of S'pore's people is the 'North Star' in navigating tech landscape: Josephine Teo

Singapore also signed three MOUs with the United Kingdom on digital cooperation.

Faris Alfiq | December 01, 2021, 10:42 PM

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In navigating the landscape for technology, which changes quickly and often unpredictably, Singapore has only one "North Star", which is the well-being of its people, Minister for Communication and Information Josephine Teo said. 

This means that Singapore will do what it takes to promote economic vitality, preserve social stability, and protect public security, whether in the digital domain or any other domain, Teo, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, added.

Teo was speaking in a panel discussion of the Future Tech Forum. She was invited by her United Kingdom counterpart Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, during a working visit to the UK from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3.

The forum gathered international participants from governments, industry and academia, where they discussed appropriate regulation across emerging technologies and digital platforms.

Singapore regulates businesses "with a light touch"

As for businesses, Teo added that Singapore generally "regulates with a light touch", providing clear rules and certainty, and gives as much room as possible for innovative ideas to thrive.

This is why, she said, that Singapore accounts for the lion's share of unicorns in Southeast Asia, with 15 out of 35 in the region, and ranked joint fourth in the world with the United States for how fast its start-ups turned into unicorns.

Nonetheless, Teo said that this does not mean that Singapore avoids rules when they are necessary.

Photo via Ministry of Communication and Information.

POFMA helped build trust about vaccines to achieve high vaccination rates

One example is that Singapore is concerned about the risks of misinformation.

Teo shared figures from a finding of a joint study conducted by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and two schools from NTU and NUS, that six in 10 people in Singapore had received false information about Covid-19 on social media.

Henceforth, Teo claimed that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) enabled the government to fight the spread of online falsehoods through a variety of means, such as requiring facts to be put up alongside the falsehoods, issuing take-down orders, and imposing criminal charges on those who knowingly spread falsehoods.

Since POFMA came into force in October 2019, it has been used 33 times, of which 18 were used to correct Covid-19 misinformation.

She claimed that taking swift action against such falsehoods helped build trust about vaccines, and she linked it to Singapore's high vaccination coverage, with 94 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated.

Cyber crime on the rise

Teo also said that Singapore was one of the first countries to have cybersecurity legislation.

She noted that overall, crime in Singapore is low and continues to fall, but the share of cybercrime shot up to 43 per cent in 2020, up from 26.8 per cent in 2019.

To address this issue, Teo shared that Singapore's Cybersecurity Agency has tailored cybersecurity toolkits for large enterprises and SMEs.

At the individual level, Teo shared that there is also a need to enhance protection for individuals through community outreach programmes and government-developed apps.

We all need to embrace a digital future

However, Teo opined that the key challenge in tech governance is making an appropriate judgement.

One needs to move at the right time and strike a balance between relying on rules and avoiding them completely.

Teo said that while everyone needs to embrace a digital future, the territory is uncharted.

Teo also acknowledged that there is no single path that works for every country.

Hence, countries can help each other by developing better compasses, sharing roadmaps and establishing rules of the road that make the journeys safer for everyone.

Singapore quite fortunate to have high degree of trust

Teo also said that Singapore is "quite fortunate" that the degree of trust in society and institutions is quite high.

The challenge, she said, is less in building trust but not allowing the trust to be eroded as it is much harder to regain when it is lost.

"This is why we take the risks very seriously," she said.

Some examples, she cited, include misinformation, personal data protection as well as cybersecurity. Teo also acknowledged that there will inevitably be occasions when trust is shaken.

Hence, in preparation, Singapore builds multilateral partnerships and works to develop international norms, such as hosting the Asean-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence to strengthen regional cyber resilience and capabilities to deal with cyber threats, and developing certification mechanisms that signal responsible practices.

Three MOUs signed

During her visit to London, Teo also signed three memoranda of understanding (MOU) with the United Kingdom on digital cooperation in the areas of Digital Trade Facilitation, Digital Identities and Cyber Security between the governments of the UK and Singapore.

These MOUs strengthen the digital connectivity between the UK and Singapore and will support the shared goals and key tenets of the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA), where negotiations are ongoing and targeted for agreement in principle in the near-term.

Photo via Ministry of Communication and Information.

The first MOU, Digital Trade Facilitation, seeks to unlock opportunities and provide solutions to barriers faced when digitising trade between the UK and Singapore.

The sharing of knowledge and implementation of pilot projects between the UK and Singapore in areas such as electronic trade documents and electronic invoicing will help to drive the development and adoption of digital trade facilitation solutions at a bilateral and international level.

The Digital Identities Cooperation MOU promotes greater cooperation between the UK and Singapore in the field of digital identity, with the aim of developing mutual recognition and interoperability between the respective digital identity regimes.

The MOU on Cyber Security will build on strong existing cyber cooperation between the UK and Singapore in seeking opportunities for collaboration in areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT) security, promoting cyber resilience and capacity building.

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Top image via Ministry of Communication and Information