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  1. The biometric check will give Singaporeans secure access to both private and government services. The government's technology agency says it will be "fundamental" to the country's digital economy. It has been trialled with a bank and is now being rolled out nationwide. It not only identifies a person but ensures they are genuinely present. "You have to make sure that the person is genuinely present when they authenticate, that you're not looking at a photograph or a video or a replayed recording or a deepfake," said Andrew Bud, founder and chief executive of iProov, the UK company that is providing the technology. The technology will be integrated with the country's digital identity scheme SingPass and allows access to government services. "This is the first time that cloud-based face verification has been used to secure the identity of people who are using a national digital identity scheme," said Mr Bud. Verification or recognition? Both facial recognition and facial verification depend on scanning a subject's face, and matching it with an image in an existing database to establish their identity. The key difference is that verification requires the explicit consent of the user, and the user gets something in return, such as access to their phone or their bank's smartphone app. Facial recognition technology, by contrast, might scan the face of everyone in a train station, and alert the authorities if a wanted criminal walks past a camera. "Face recognition has all sorts of social implications. Face verification is extremely benign," said Mr Bud. Privacy advocates, however, contend that consent is a low threshold when dealing with sensitive biometric data. "Consent does not work when there is an imbalance of power between controllers and data subjects, such as the one observed in citizen-state relationships," said Ioannis Kouvakas, legal officer with London-based Privacy International. Business or government? In the US and China, tech companies have jumped on the facial verification bandwagon. For example, a range of banking apps support Apple Face ID or Google's Face Unlock for verification, and China's Alibaba has a Smile to Pay app. Many governments are already using facial verification too, but few have considered attaching the technology to a national ID. In some cases that's because they don't have a national ID at all. In the US, for example, most people use state-issued drivers' licences as their main form of identification. China hasn't attempted to link facial verification to its national ID, but last year enacted rules forcing customers to have their faces scanned when they buy a new mobile phone, so that they could be checked against the ID provided. Nevertheless, facial verification is already widespread in airports, and many government departments are using it, including the UK Home Office and National Health Service and the US Department of Homeland Security. How will it be used? Singapore's technology is already in use at kiosks in branches of Singapore's tax office, and one major Singapore bank, DBS, allows customers to use it to open an online bank account. It is also likely to be used for verification at secure areas in ports and to ensure that students take their own tests. It will be available to any business that wants it, and meets the government's requirements. "We don't really restrict how this digital face verification can be used, as long as it complies with our requirements," said Kwok Quek Sin, senior director of national digital identity at GovTech Singapore. "And the basic requirement is that it is done with consent and with the awareness of the individual." GovTech Singapore thinks the technology will be good for businesses, because they can use it without having to build the infrastructure themselves. Additionally, Mr Kwok said, it is better for privacy because companies won't need to collect any biometric data. In fact, they would only see a score indicating how close the scan is to the image the government has on file. Source
  2. Singapore COVID-19 contact-tracing data accessible to police SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore said on Monday its police will be able to use data obtained by its coronavirus contact-tracing technology for criminal investigations, a decision likely to increase privacy concerns around the system. FILE PHOTO: Contact tracing app TraceTogether, released by the Singapore government to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen on a mobile phone, in Singapore March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su The technology, deployed as both a phone app and a physical device, is being used by nearly 80% of the 5.7 million population, authorities said after announcing its use would become compulsory in places like shopping malls. The TraceTogether scheme, one of the most widely used in any country, has raised privacy fears but authorities have said the data is encrypted, stored locally and only tapped by authorities if individuals test positive for COVID-19. “The Singapore Police Force is empowered ... to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations,” Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said in response to a question in parliament. The privacy statement on the TraceTogether website says: “data will only be used for COVID-19 contact tracing”. Privacy concerns have been raised about such apps in various places, including Israel and South Korea. “Concerns have focused on data security issues associated with the collection, use and storage of the data,” law firm Norton Rose Fullbright said on Singapore’s scheme in a review of global contact-tracing technology last month. Asked about the TraceTogether privacy statement by an opposition MP, Tan said: “We do not preclude the use of TraceTogether data in circumstances where citizens’ safety and security is or has been affected, and this applies to all other data as well.” Dissent is rare in Singapore, which has been ruled by the same party since its independence in 1965, has strict laws, widespread surveillance and restrictions on public assembly. Serious crime is also rare. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously said privacy concerns about the tech had to be weighed against the need to curb the spread of the virus and keep the economy open. Singapore has reported only a handful of local COVID-19 cases over the last few months, and its extensive disease surveillance and contact tracing efforts have won international praise including from the World Health Organization. Source: Singapore COVID-19 contact-tracing data accessible to police
  3. SINGAPORE - Singapore extended its own port limits in response to intrusions by Malaysian vessels into its waters and also sent out a strong warning: While the Republic has so far responded with restraint against aggressive actions by Malaysian government vessels in its waters, it will not hesitate to act firmly to protect its territory and sovereignty, if necessary. A Malaysian government vessel (left) near a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel (right), as seen from the south of Tuas View Extension on Dec 6, 2018. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said this on Thursday (Dec 6), calling on Malaysian government vessels to "cease their intrusions and return to the status quo before 25 Oct 2018". On Oct 25 this year, Malaysia issued a federal government declaration that would extend the Johor Baru Port limits into Singapore's territorial waters. Since then, there have been 14 intrusions by Malaysian vessels into Singapore's waters, Mr Khaw said. He said three such vessels were still in Singapore's waters as he spoke. Singapore had also decided to expand its own port limits in response to Malaysia's action, he said, but only within its own area. "Our security agencies will continue to patrol the area, and respond to unauthorised activities on the ground. They have so far responded with restraint against aggressive actions by the Malaysian Government vessels," said Mr Khaw. "But Singapore cannot allow our sovereignty to be violated, or new facts on the ground to be created. Therefore, if it becomes necessary, we will not hesitate to take firm actions against intrusions and unauthorised activities in our waters to protect our territory and sovereignty." Mr Khaw noted that since at least 1999, Singapore has been exercising its jurisdiction in the waters now covered by the recent extension of the Johor Baru Port limits. "Malaysia has never laid claim to these waters, or protested our actions there. Now, out of the blue, Malaysia is claiming these territorial waters that belong to Singapore," he said. "Without any prior consultations, Malaysia is seeking to alter unilaterally the longstanding status quo in the area. This is a blatant provocation and a serious violation of our sovereignty and international law." On Nov 5, Singapore issued a Third Person Note (TPN) requesting that Malaysia immediately amend the declaration to reflect the sovereignty of Singapore over these waters, and on Nov 9, Mr Khaw said he raised this issue with his counterpart, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke, in Bangkok. However, Malaysia went ahead to publish a circular and a notice notifying the shipping community of the expanded Johor Baru Port limits, Mr Khaw said. Singapore then issued a second TPN on Nov 29 to protest against these documents. "Malaysian government vessels have since been continually intruding into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas," Mr Khaw said. "So far there have been 14 intrusions. Singapore had protested the repeated intrusions via three TPNs." On Wednesday, Malaysia issued a media statement arguing that Singapore cannot claim the area as its territorial waters on the basis of its reclamation works in Tuas in recent years. But Mr Khaw argued: "In 1979, when Malaysia published its map, it did not consult Singapore before drawing its territorial claim line. In fact, in 1979 no reclamation at Tuas had taken place. "So the Malaysian unilateral territorial claim of 1979 (which we do not recognise) could not possibly have taken into account any reclamation by Singapore." The new Johor Baru Port limits extend beyond Malaysia's own territorial claim line, and Malaysian ships have crossed this line to enter Singapore waters, Mr Khaw added. Malaysia also replied to Singapore's first TPN, that was issued on Nov 5, on Wednesday, he said. In its reply, Malaysia disagreed that the altered Johor Port limits had encroached on Singapore territorial waters off Tuas, and emphasised that the Malaysian government vessels were patrolling the territorial waters of Malaysia. "Malaysia's reply also proposed that officials from the two sides meet to work towards an amicable resolution. Singapore naturally agrees to this and will follow up," Mr Khaw said.' He added: "Countries do amend their port limits from time to time. But they must do so in a way that does not contravene international law, or infringe on the sovereignty of another country." Singapore has amended its port limits before, with the last time being in 1997, he said. In view of these recent "provocative developments", Singapore has decided to extend the Singapore Port Limits off Tuas, with effect from Thursday, Mr Khaw said. "This violation of Singapore's sovereignty is a serious new issue in our bilateral relations with Malaysia," he added. "Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. We still seek good bilateral relations, and hope we can work together to find an amicable solution to these issues." But Singaporeans have to be fully aware of these developments, he said. "While we seek cooperation and friendship with other countries, we must never let other countries take advantage of us. When our national interests are challenged, we have to quietly but firmly stand our ground and stay united as one people." Source
  4. New laws set to be tabled in Singapore this year will target the sale of piracy-configured media devices and software. The proposals also seek to prevent individuals from installing piracy software on devices for a fee, post-sale. In common with dozens of countries around the world, Singapore is struggling to contain the spread of piracy-configured set-top boxes. Branded by industry as ‘ISDs’ (Illicit Streaming Devices), these products enable consumers to access a wide range of content – usually movies and TV shows – over the Internet without paying an associated fee. The disruption caused by such devices, which often contain Kodi add-ons and software applications such as Showbox and Mobdro, is regularly criticized by industry players who feel that copyright legislation isn’t always in step with advances in technology. In Singapore, such devices currently sit in a legal gray area but that position is set to change later this year with a range of proposed amendments to copyright law published Thursday by the government. The product of a three-year review by the Ministry of Law and the Intellectual Property Office, the Copyright Review Report details measures to criminalize and impose civil penalties on those who make, import, or commercially distribute piracy-configured media devices. While current law is capable of dealing with infringing items such as pirate DVDs, so-called ISDs contain no infringing movies or TV shows at the point of sale. The proposed amendments close this loophole, and then some. “Our policy position is not to allow commercial gains derived from enabling access to content from unauthorized sources,” the review paper reads. “A DVD may hold unauthorized content, while a set-top box which streams content may not hold the actual unauthorized content itself. However, we do not view this as a material difference. While the proposals aim to prevent manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers from knowingly selling devices already set up to access infringing sources, they also claim to close a potential loophole. In some cases, perhaps understanding the thin line between legal and illegal supply, some sellers of media boxes have supplied them without any piracy-enabling software installed. Instead, they provide assistance or instruction to the customer on how these may be added at a later point, post-sale. In these cases, the intent and knowledge of the seller will be taken into account. “[T]o incur liability, the retailer should have some degree of knowledge that the device in question can, and very likely will, be used to access content from a source that is not authorized by the rights-holder,” the proposals read. This will cover people who sell boxes ready-configured, those who advertise their products for infringing purposes, and those who provide assistance to buyers in order to enable their devices for piracy. So far, the proposals deal with device sellers but there are also those who do not sell devices but instead specialize in setting them up for piracy purposes. The proposals are also set to target people who, for a fee, add infringing capabilities to media devices by installing or providing software, such as Kodi add-ons and similar tools. Excerpt from the Singapore Copyright Review Report Speaking with TorrentFreak, Neil Gane of the Asia Video Industry Association’s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) says that the ISD problem is the most important copyright infringement issue in Singapore but dealing with it under current law is not straightforward. “We are glad the government has recognized that this lack of legal clarity had allowed ISD retailers to mislead consumers that the content accessible through such TV boxes was legal and that requisite subscription charges went to rights-holders – which they did not,” Gane says. “As such, we welcome the proposals to modify Singapore’s Copyright Act to better deal with this form of infringement. We are encouraged by the language in the Copyright Review Report which implies a concerted effort to clarify and ‘future proof’ the current copyright legislation.” The full report can be viewed here (pdf) Original Article
  5. Singapore lays out ground rules to minimise cable cuts, service disruptions Facilities-based operators and earthworks contractors will have to comply with new standardised procedures detailing how earthworks should be carried out, following service disruptions in recent years that have been the result of cable cut incidents. Singapore has laid out a new set of ground rules for earthworks carried out in the city-state, following service disruptions in recent years that have been the result of telecommunication cable cut incidents. The standardised earthworks requirements aim to minimise such risks and establish greater clarity for facilities-based operators (FBOs) and earthworks contractors on the requirements they have to adopt. These service providers would have to comply with the new rules by June 1, 2019, when earthworks were carried out in the vicinity of underground telecommunication cables, saidindustry regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Monday. "To prevent damage to the FBOs' telecommunications cables, the earthworks requirements set out detailed, step-by-step procedures, and comprehensive safeguards that earthworks contractors must observe before commencing and while undertaking earthworks. They also specify the measures that contractors must comply with when FBOs' telecommunication cables need to be diverted," the government agency said. Failure to comply with these requirementswould be an offence under the Telecommunications Act, it cautioned. IMDA said its investigations revealed failure to exercise due diligence and observe procedures laid out by FBOs was a frequent cause of fibre cable cut incidents in the past. Earthworks procedures also currently were not standardised amongst FBOs, varying in terms of standard and comprehensiveness, it noted, adding that there were more than 20 such operators in Singapore today, all of which had different sets of procedures for contractors. This could lead to confusion amongst these vendors, it said. FBOs also would have to comply with the new requirements and assist earthworks contractors. For instance, IMDA said, operators must attend joint site meetings and trial hole inspections to verify earthworks contractors had properly ascertained the locations of their telecommunications cables before earthworks could commence. IMDA's deputy chief executive and director-general of telecoms and post, Aileen Chia, said: "Our digital economy is built on resilient connectivity. The standardised earthworks requirements will ensure that contractors and FBOs have the right processes when they work on our telecommunication infrastructure. [IMDA] will continue to work with them and the construction industry to prevent telecommunication cable cuts and reduce inconvenience to our consumers and businesses." Industry regulator has set up a committee comprising government officials and industry experts to establish a "multi-year roadmap" that aims to identify cyber threats and develop capabilities and tools needed to better secure Singapore's telecommunications sector, including IoT deployments. Singapore government reaffirms $1.7B commitment to smart nation, digital transformation First announced earlier this year as part of the country's 2017 budget, Singapore's IT office says it will put out S$2.4 billion in ICT tenders encompassing data analytics and Internet of Things sensors. Singapore touts open platforms in smart nation drive, acknowledges need to do better in security New pilots including a drowning detection system are in the works, as the government continues to push its smart nation goal alongside an open, API-driven framework. But it stresses the importance of security in rolling out new services and acknowledges the country needs to do better, particularly, following the SingHealth data breach. Singapore to spend $10M on new urban technology Singapore government has earmarked S$14 million (US$10.19 million) over three years to fund the development of smart estates and modern technology, such as energy efficient applications. Source
  6. The escalating trade war between the U.S. and China is chilling global collaboration that has long driven breakthroughs in technology and science. The tiny island nation of Singapore is trying to carve out an independent role in the clash and demonstrate the advantages of cooperation in fields like artificial intelligence. It’s a difficult balancing act. The country, with cordial ties to the two superpowers, is fighting against nationalistic forces on both sides. Artificial intelligence is becoming something of a test case for how independent countries will participate in emerging technologies. China and the U.S. have dominated AI development, raising concerns that other countries will lose out on its benefits and have no voice in devising regulations. Yet Singapore’s government is investing S$500 million ($360 million) on AI and other digital technologies through 2020 and has attracted Chinese and American companies to the country with policies that support AI research. Singapore’s Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran jumped into the debate this year, proposing a framework for the ethical use of AI at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “Singapore has an important role to play,” said Lawrence Loh, an associate professor at NUS Business School. “We will never be able to match the technological prowess of the U.S. and China, but there are certain areas where Singapore can take leadership like using its position to get people to work together.” Iswaran will elaborate on Singapore’s vision at Bloomberg’s Sooner Than You Think technology conference on Thursday. He will kick off an event that will feature speakers from Microsoft Corp., International Business Machines Corp., Temasek Holdings Pte, China AI pioneer SenseTime Group Ltd., as well as Southeast Asia’s leading tech startups Grab Holdings Inc. and Gojek. Singapore has long positioned itself as neutral ground. It’s already home to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and the Singapore International Commercial Court, forums for international dispute resolution. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his annual policy speech last month that Singapore will maintain its neutral position and not take sides between the U.S. and China. The affluent city-state of 5.6 million is not leaving anything to chance when it comes to future-proofing its economy. It has set up a dedicated inter-agency task force to study all aspects of AI. And in recent weeks, it granted an AI patent to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. within just three months -- a record pace that underlines the country’s determination to move full speed ahead. “Singapore plays a pivotal role as it facilitates our entry into markets of our interest rapidly,” Benjamin Bai, vice president and chief IP counsel of Alibaba-affiliate Ant Financial, said in a statement released by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. Still, there is skepticism about the country’s prospects. Singapore, like several other countries, is making a genuine push to develop its AI ecosystem, but its effort is tiny compared with the giants, said Kai-Fu Lee, founder of the venture firm Sinovation Ventures. “Unless Singapore can unify ASEAN and become the undisputed AI leader and supplier in ASEAN countries, its efforts will not lead to a fraction of the U.S. or China,” Lee said in an email. The government has been stepping up efforts to lure companies working in AI. Alibaba has opened its first joint research institute outside China in Singapore in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University, while Salesforce.com Inc. opened its first AI research center outside of its research and development hub of Palo Alto, California -- adding to a growing list of new research centers including the Singapore Management University’s Centre for AI and Data Governance. GIC Pte, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, has invested in Canadian AI companies, including Montreal-based Element AI Inc., which has set up an office in the city-state after raising $102 million in new funding in 2017. “It’s very hard to see how things will pan out with the trade war,” NUS Business School’s Loh said. “Singapore’s focus should be technology, not geopolitics.” Source
  7. SINGAPORE: Electric scooters will be banned from footpaths in Singapore from Tuesday (Nov 5), with offenders facing fines of up to S$2,000 and jail time of up to three months once the ban is strictly enforced from 2020. The use of e-scooters remains banned on roads here, although the use of such devices will be allowed on cycling paths and park connector networks. There will be an advisory period until Dec 31, during which errant users will be given warnings, to allow e-scooter riders time to adjust. "From Jan 1, 2020, we will carry out strict enforcement, and those caught riding an e-scooter on footpaths will be liable for a fine up to S$2,000 and/or jail up to three months," Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said in Parliament on Monday. The ban will not apply to bicycles or personal mobility aids such as motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters, Dr Lam said. By the first quarter of next year, other types of personal mobility devices (PMDs), such as hoverboards and electric unicycles, are also expected to be banned from footpaths. In addition, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will reject existing licence applications for PMD-sharing services, and no new applications for such licences will be accepted because of safety concerns. NOT A COMPLETE BAN The authorities are aware that a ban on the use of e-scooters on footpaths could impact those such as food delivery riders who use them in their jobs, Dr Lam added. However, he noted that less than 30 per cent of Deliveroo and Foodpanda’s riders use e-scooters, adding that LTA will work with such companies to help their riders switch to motorcycles or bicycles instead. "This move is not a complete ban of e-scooters," Dr Lam stressed. The authorities are stepping up the construction of dedicated cycling paths - where e-scooters can be used - in areas such as Woodlands, Toa Payoh and Choa Chu Kang, with 750km expected to be built by 2025. Such paths will provide “clear separation” between pedestrians and e-scooters, Dr Lam said. Regarding fire safety, the authorities are extending the early disposal incentive scheme - where S$100 is given for the disposal of non-UL2272 compliant registered e-scooters - to the end of the year. The UL2272 standard refers to a set of safety requirements which cover the electrical drive train system of PMDs, including the battery system. Twelve retailers have been caught selling non-UL2272 certified PMDS since July, when the requirement came into place, Dr Lam said. E-SCOOTER ACCIDENTS RISING DESPITE REGULATIONS "Great efforts" have been put in place to promote the safe use of PMDs since the Active Mobility Bill was passed in February 2017, he said. These include the introduction of compliance standards, the reduction of speeds on footpaths and increased enforcement. Despite this, the authorities continue to encounter errant riders - with about 370 offenders caught each month - and the number of accidents also continues to rise, he noted. “There have been more severe accidents, and even a fatal one involving a cyclist in September. Many riders have themselves suffered severe injuries, including a few who lost their lives.” Dr Lam noted that other countries such as France - which banned the use of e-scooters on pavements last week - have also had to revisit rules governing the use of PMDs. “Cities have allowed the use of such devices on footpaths as they are non-pollutive, inexpensive and, if properly used, convenient for short intra-town travels,” he said. “We expected the co-sharing of footpaths to be challenging but were hopeful that with public education, PMD users would be gracious and responsible,” he added. “Unfortunately, this was not so.” It was a "difficult decision" to ban the use of e-scooters from footpaths, said Dr Lam. "But it is a necessary step for pedestrians to feel safe again on public paths, while still allowing e-scooters to grow in tandem with cycling path infrastructure.” LTA TO INCREASE NUMBER OF ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS Suggestions made by the Active Mobility Advisory Panel in September - such as requiring that riders be at least 16 years old and pass a mandatory theory test - are being studied, and announcements on their implementation will be made at a later date, Dr Lam said. To enforce the new regulations, LTA will increase the number of its active mobility enforcement officers to 200 by the end of this year, Dr Lam said in response to Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan. On the issue of third-party liability insurance, raised by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, Dr Lam said the authorities are working with insurers to see if premiums for such policies can be lowered to encourage take-up. The authorities are also studying the possibility of imposing upstream controls on the import of non-compliant PMDs, and are working with major online retailers to prevent such devices from being brought into Singapore, Dr Lam said in response to questions from Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng. Source: E-scooters to be banned from Singapore's footpaths starting Nov 5 (via Channel News Asia)
  8. By Eileen Yu for By The Way Singapore evokes online falsehoods law while Malaysia makes arrests in their attempts to stem the spread of inaccurate reports concerning the coronavirus. Both Singapore and Malaysia have moved to clamp down on inaccurate online reports about the coronavirus, with the latter making several arrests of individuals for posting and sharing such content. Singapore also vows to take "swift action" against the spread of such reports. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on Wednesday said it, alongside the Royal Malaysia Police, had conducted four separate raids that resulted the arrest of four individuals suspected of posting and distributing false reports about the outbreak, which had affected several nations in the region. Three of the detainees allegedly had uploaded inaccurate information on Facebook, while the fourth had shared such content on Twitter. MCMC added that smartphones, SIM cards, and memory cards believed to have been used to upload the content were confiscated during teh raids. Detained under Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Act, Section 233, for sharing offensive and menacing content, the four individuals--if found guilty--would face fines of up to RM50,000 ($12,247) or imprisonment of up to a year, or both. They also would be fined an additional RM1,000 ($244.93) for each day the alleged falsehood remained online after their conviction. The arrests had followed another on Tuesday when an individual in Selangor was detained for allegedly posting falsehoods about the virus on Facebook. The MCMC said it would continue to step up enforcement efforts, alongside the police, to "control the spreading of false news". Meanwhile, Malaysia's southern neighbour evoked its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) twice this week over false statements made about the coronavirus. Singapore's Minister for Health on Monday instructed the POFMA Office to issue a General Correction Direction to SPH Magazines, which operates the HardwareZone forum, over a post on the forum that falsely claimed a man had died in Singapore from the virus. A General Correction Direction is issued to internet intermediaries, telecom and broadcast licensees, and permit holders of the country's Newspaper Printing Presses Act, requiring them to publish, broadcast, or transmit a correction notice to their users in Singapore. Under the directive, HardwareZone was required to carry a correction notice to anyone in Singapore who accessed its online forum. A day later on Tuesday, the Minister for Transport instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Targeted Correction Direction to Facebook over falsehoods made by two users of the social media site, who falsely stated Woodlands MRT station was closed for disinfection due to a suspected case of the coronavirus. Such directives were issued to internet intermediaries which services were used to communicate falsehoods that affected public interest. They required these sites to communicate correction notices, by means of its service, to all users in Singapore who accessed the falsehood through its service. In this instance, Facebook had to carry a correction notice on the two posts that contained the falsehood, according to the POFMA Office. Commenting on the POFMA directive involving HardwareZone, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran noted that more than 4,600 unique visitors had read the false report before it was taken down. "We must take swift action against such falsehoods [or] there is a grave risk they will spread and cause panic among our citizens," Iswaran said. "And that is why we have POFMA and we will not hesitate to use the powers under the law to take action against any party that spreads such falsehoods." He added that the objective was to ensure Singaporeans were provided with the facts to enable them to safely browse online platforms and distinguish truth from falsehoods. The Singapore government last week ordered local access to a website, operated by Malaysia-based Lawyers for Liberty, blocked for failing to comply with a correction directive issued under the POFMA. In response, the human rights group would not comply with the correction notice order and, instead, filed a motion in Kuala Lumpur's High Court against Singapore's Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. The lawsuit claimed the Singapore government was attempting to "encroach upon" freedom of speech in Malaysia. Under the POFMA, offenders faced up to three or five years' imprisonment, a SG$30,000 or SG$50,000 fine, or both. If bots or inauthentic accounts were used to amplify falsehoods, the potential penalties that could be applied would be doubled. Offending internet intermediaries, meanwhile, could face up to SG$1 million fine, and also would receive a daily SG$100,000 fine for each day they continued to breach the Act after conviction. Source
  9. Singapore was ready for COVID-19—other countries, take note Singapore built a robust system for tracking and containing epidemics after SARS and H1N1. Enlarge / South Korean soldiers wearing protective masks sit at a temperature screening point at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, on Monday, March 9, 2020. The coronavirus outbreak in South Korea is showing signs of slowing as the rate of new daily infections falls and health authorities almost finished testing members of a religious sect at the center of the epidemic, the country's health minister said. Getty Images 206 with 83 posters participating This pandemic—the new disease COVID-19, the virus SARS-CoV-2—is not Singapore’s first epidemiological nightmare. In 2002 and 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the original SARS, tore out of China and through Asia, killing 33 people in Singapore and sparking wholesale revisions to the city-state’s public health system. “They realized they wanted to invest for the future to reduce that economic cost if the same thing were to happen again,” says Martin Hibberd, an infectious disease researcher now at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who worked in Singapore on SARS. So Singapore instituted new travel controls and health infrastructure. Then, in 2009, it got hit again—with H1N1 influenza, the so-called swine flu. “Pandemic flu came from Mexico, an Americas event, and Singapore tried to put in place in 2009 what they learned with SARS,” Hibberd says. “But flu was much more difficult to contain than SARS was, and they realized what they thought they’d learned didn’t work. It was another lesson.” When COVID-19 came around, Singapore was, it seems, ready. Along with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, Singapore instituted strict travel controls and protocols for identifying sick individuals—to get them help as well as to find the people they’d been in contact with. The Singaporean government posted detailed accounting for how many people had been tested for the virus, and the locations and natures of those people’s social contacts. All these governments instituted strict social distancing measures, like canceling events, closing schools, and telling people to stay home. As a result (at least in part), all have lower numbers of infected people and lower fatalities than China or Italy, proportionately. They “flattened the curve,” as public health experts now say—lowering a probable spike of infections, perhaps pushing that surge of seriously ill people further out in time so that health care systems don’t get overburdened. The lessons these countries learned could be instructive for places further out on the timeline—like the United States or most of Europe, which still lags a couple of weeks behind the virus’ spread through Italy, where there have been hundreds of deaths and the hospital system is so slammed with seriously ill people that it’s beginning to institute triage measures. These places offer models for what to do next, laying out best practices for how to respond to the pandemic with fewer deaths, to get a case fatality rate closer to South Korea’s apparent 0.8 instead of Italy’s 6.6. Detailed data can also tell epidemiologists what to expect about the dynamics of the disease, helping guide more targeted responses. “Highly detailed surveillance data will be critical for understanding the outbreak,” says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “It is this sort of detailed analysis that will be critical for answering key questions about the role of asymptomatic people and children in transmission.” How they did it Here’s how those Asian countries are doing it: According to a new article in The Lancet, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore all developed their own tests for COVID-19 as soon as the genetic sequences for the virus were published and ramped up production of the materials necessary for those tests. (That’s a sharp contrast with the US, which still doesn’t have enough tests for nationwide use, and may actually be running out of the materials necessary to make them.) Each country instituted controls over immigration (a controversial move that the WHO recommended against, but that they did anyway). They rejiggered their national financial systems to make sure people didn’t have to pay for tests or treatment. (Easier in places where most health care is already nationalized, to be sure—and in some more progressive American states like California, Washington, and New York. In fact, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even ordered paid sick leave for quarantined people and free hand sanitizer. Taiwan actually combined its national health care and immigration databases to generate automated alerts based on travelers’ potential for being infected. On January 20, when China had reported only a few cases of the disease, Taiwan spun up a Central Epidemic Command Center—created after SARS—to coordinate the national effort. Among other things, the CECC put limits on the prices of personal protective equipment like masks and deployed military personnel to manufacture more. In the US, mask shortages led the Food and Drug Administration to relax the rules on what kinds of masks health care workers can use; on January 20, Taiwan’s equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it had “44 million surgical masks, 1.9 million N95 masks, and 1,100 negative pressure isolation rooms” ready to go, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. People in Singapore, for now, get information from multiple government websites, frequently updated, as well as from a government WhatsApp account. People get their temperatures taken before they can enter most buildings, including businesses, schools, gyms, and government agencies, because fever is one of the main symptoms of COVID-19. (According to my sister-in-law, whose family has lived in Singapore for six years, everyone whose temperature is normal gets a sticker, and people are expected to acquire two or three stickers every day.) Hibberd, who’s in Singapore now working on the new coronavirus, says, “On every lift I ride, there’s a notice saying what I have to do. Everywhere you walk there’s information… There’s a confidence in that information, in the government and what they’re saying, and there’s an expectation you should follow it.” The country gives a bit of money to people who don’t have the kinds of jobs that support being out of work—and fines people who don’t follow the rules. In at least one hospital, the experience of SARS led to a complete reimagining of the ways physicians deal with patients. One article from personnel in the radiology department at Singapore General Hospital describes keeping teams of health care workers separate from one another in case one has to be quarantined, and physical separations for different kinds of patients—all sorts of seemingly small systematic changes that limit the spread of an infectious disease. As one Singaporean researcher told The Guardian, “We don’t do anything different, we just do it well.” These countries all have social structures and traditions that might make this kind of surveillance and control a little easier than in the don’t-tread-on-me United States. But then, none of those countries are China, either, with its full-on surveillance state. “Copying China would have a big impact on the economy,” Hibberd says of Singapore. “But everybody getting the disease quickly and the country panicking would also have a big impact on the economy.” So Singapore is taking a middle path, he says. Of course, if the disease continues to spread, that approach might get more draconian. “If COVID-19 turns out not to be controllable,” Hibberd says, “then the containment process will change, to not looking for every case but identifying and supporting those cases at most risk of severe disease instead.” Even that data will be helpful in a broader way, though. Wide-scale testing, as these countries are doing, sweeps up mild cases, people who don’t go to the hospital. That increases the denominator, so to speak. It gives a better picture of how fast and how far the disease spreads overall, which can be compared to the number of people who get sick or die, allowing for a more accurate calculation of the case fatality rate, or CFR. It’ll also bring more clarity to questions about which people are more vulnerable—so far, older people seem much more likely to suffer complications from COVID-19, but is that due to lung damage, immunological weakness, or something else? “That said, we have to be very careful not to generalize case fatality rate estimates from any one country to another,” says Maia Majumder, a computational epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. “As much as the CFR is a function of case-finding, it’s also a function of quality of care and population demographics.” Singapore’s health system is much better than, say, the one in China’s Hubei province, which got overwhelmed early, and seeing what was going on in China allowed all these other countries time to prepare. Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea all share the characteristic of using their experiences with prior outbreaks to build a system—and then sustaining it. None of them had to deal with the fear of being a first-mover, of being the first city or country to institute seemingly severe countermeasures. Their countermeasures were already in place, waiting to be reactivated. In the United States, all the people ringing the bell the hardest for a Singapore-like approach hope they’ll be heard, and that it’ll work—and so, by next autumn, they’ll seem like fools for having been so worried. This story originally appeared on wired.com. Source: Singapore was ready for COVID-19—other countries, take note (Ars Technica)
  10. Jurisdictions agree to exchange information in data breach investigations. The Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data and Singaporean Personal Data Protection Commission has signed a memorandum of understanding that will see the pair cooperate on protecting personal data. According to the agreement, the two commissions will exchange information on potential or ongoing data breaches, conduct joint research projects, and share best practices and "experiences". "A strong collaborative effort with our counterparts in Hong Kong and other jurisdictions is needed to advance personal data protection and prepare for a digital economy," Commissioner of the PDPC Tan Kiat How said in a statement. "We look forward to strengthening our working relations to enable all parties to collectively benefit from best practices, research and the sharing of information." Discussions that led to the memo began in September. In the past year, both jurisdictions have seen significant data breaches. For Hong Kong, its flag carrier Cathay Pacific disclosed a data breach that hit 9.4 million people in October. Cathay Pacific said that passenger details including name, nationality, date of birth, phone number, email address, passport number, identity card number, frequent flyer membership number, customer service remarks, and historical travel information could have been accessed. The airline added 860,000 passport numbers and approximately 245,000 Hong Kong identity card numbers were accessed. A small number of credit card numbers, 403 in total, were also accessed, as well as 27 cards with no CVV. The company said it had discovered suspicious activity on its network in March 2018 and took "immediate action", with the breach confirmed in May. "Since that time, analysis of the data has continued in order to identify affected individuals and to determine whether the data at issue could be reconstructed," it said. While for Singapore, the city-state handed out SG$1 million in fines following the SingHealth data breach that impacted over 1.5 million individuals. "SingHealth personnel handling security incidents was unfamiliar with the incident response process, overly dependent on IHIS [Integrated Health Information Systems], and failed to understand and take further steps to understand the significance of the information provided by IHIS after it was surfaced," the Personal Data Protection Commission said in January as the fines were handed down. "Even if organisations delegate work to vendors, organisations as data controllers must ultimately take responsibility for the personal data that they have collected from their customers. "These financial penalties are the highest ever imposed by PDPC, to date." The SingHealth breach was the largest in Singaporean history, and the attack was carried out over a period that spanned more than 10 months from August 2017. Source
  11. (SINGAPORE) — Singapore reportedly has passed a law criminalizing publication of fake news and allowing the government to block and order the removal of such content. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill passed Wednesday night by a vote of 72-9, a lawmaker with the opposition Worker’s Party, Daniel Goh, said on Twitter. The law bans falsehoods that are prejudicial to Singapore or likely to influence elections and requires service providers to remove such content or allows the government to block it. Offenders could face a jail term of up to 10 years and hefty fines. Opponents in Parliament said it gave government ministers too much power to determine what was false and broadly defined public interest. The Strait Times newspaper reported Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the orders to correct or remove false content would mostly be directed at technology companies, rather than individuals who ran afoul of the law without intent. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month defended the proposed law,saying many countries had them and that Singapore had debated the issue for two years. He rejected criticism the law could further stifle free speech in Singapore, which already has stern laws on public protests and dissent. “They criticized many things about Singapore’s media management, but what we have done have worked for Singapore. And it is our objective to continue to do things that will work for Singapore. And I think (the new law) will be a significant step forward in this regard,” he said on a visit to Malaysia. Speaking at the same news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned such laws were a double-edged sword that could be abused by governments to stay in power. Malaysia’s own fake news ban was rushed into law by the government Mahathir’s coalition ousted in a shock election result in 2018. Mahathir has promised to try to repeal the law, though a first attempt to do so failed. Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the law. It is a “disaster for online expression by ordinary Singaporeans” and a “hammer blow” against the independence of online news portals, said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director. Source
  12. Technology drives Singapore's ranking as most competitive economy, knocking off US Advanced technological infrastructure and favourable immigration laws are amongst key factors that helped propel Singapore to pole position this year as the world's most competitive economy, toppling the US economy, which was dragged down by weaker hi-tech exports. IMD World Competitiveness Rankings 2019 Fuelled by its advanced technological infrastructure and favourable immigration laws, Singapore has ranked as the world's most competitive economy, knocking off previous leader the United States. The availability of skilled labour and efficient ways to set up new businesses in the Asian economic giant also play a key role in driving Singapore to pole position, its first time since 2010. The US, on the other hand, saw weaker hi-tech exports, fluctuations in the value of the dollar, and higher fuel prices, which dragged down its position down to third, which was held by Singapore last year, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Rankings. And while the Trump administration's first wave of tax policies triggered an initial boost to confidence, this appeared to have dimmed, added IMD World Competitiveness Center, which compiled the rankings. Hong Kong retained its second placing, supported by a "benign" tax and business policy environment and access to business finance, the research centre said. The IMD Rankings was established in 1989 and assessed 235 indicators across 63 ranked economies, taking into account "hard" statistics such as unemployment, GDP, and government spending on health and education, as well as "soft" data from an Executive Opinion Survey covering topics such as social cohesion, globalisation, and corruption. The Asia-Pacific region came up strong on the index, with 11 of 14 economies either improving or retaining their rankings. Indonesia led the pack in most improved placing, climbing 11 notches to 32nd position, which the IMD attributed to improvement in infrastructure and business conditions as well as increased efficiency in the government sector. The Asian market also had the lowest labour cost amongst the 63 economies evaluated. Thailand stepped up five places to 25th, fuelled by an increase in foreign direct investments and productivity. Japan and Mainland China, however, fell in their rankings with the former dropping five places to 30th, dragged down by a sluggish economy, weaker business environment, and government debt. The Chinese economy dropped one step to 14th position. Competitiveness across Europe also struggled to gain ground with most economies on the decline or stagnant, according to IMD, which noted that the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit pushed the United Kingdom down to 23rd, from 20th. Ireland, though, climbed five notches to 7th, propelled by improved business conditions and a strengthening economy. It also led its global peers in terms of investment incentives, the handling of public sector contracts, and areas such as image, branding, and talent management. Director of IMD World Competitiveness Center, Arturo Bris, said: "In a year of high uncertainty in global markets due to rapid changes in the international political landscape as well as trade relations, the quality of institutions seem to be the unifying element for increasing prosperity. A strong institutional framework provides the stability for business to invest and innovate, ensuring a higher quality of life for citizens." SINGAPORE REFUTES US ALLEGATIONS OF CURRENCY MANIPULATION Meanwhile, Singapore has rejected allegations from the US Treasury that it manipulated its currency for export advantage. In a statement released Wednesday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said the country's monetary policy framework was centred on the exchange rate and aimed to ensure medium-term price stability. The industry regulator said it manages the Singapore dollar nominal effective exchange rate within a policy band, not unlike how other central banks conducted their monetary policies by targeting interest rates. MAS explained: "Whether they target the exchange rate or the interest rate, central banks aim to keep consumer price inflation low and stable as their primary mandate. MAS does not, and cannot, use the exchange rate to gain an export advantage or achieve a current account surplus. A deliberate weakening of the Singapore dollar would cause inflation to spike and compromise MAS' price stability objective." It further called for Singapore's current account balance to be viewed in context, noting that the country ran persistently large current account deficits in its early years of development, at close to 10 percent of GDP between 1965 and 1984 when its investment needs were greater than available saving. The nation's investment needs tapered off, as its economy matured, while national saving rose--turning the current account into a surplus position. MAS added that it expected rising affluence to fuel consumption and Singapore's current account surplus would be reduced when public and private savings were drawn down to support the needs of an ageing population. The central bank's comments were in response to a report by the US Department of the Treasury that added nine trading partners on its monitoring list for their currency practices, including six Asian markets: Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Germany, Ireland, and Italy also made the list. The US government agency said it aimed to ensure trade expanded in a way that helped US workers and companies as well as protected them from unfair foreign trade practices. US Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said: "Treasury takes seriously any potentially unfair currency practices and Treasury is expanding the number of US trading partners it reviews to make currency practices fairer and more transparent." Source
  13. The U.S. IRS proposes electronic surveillance to weed out Bitcoin tax evasion whereas Singapore plans to exempt cryptocurrencies from value-added tax. Last week, Singapore proposed to exempt Bitcoin and cryptocurrency transactions from value-added tax (VAT.) In America, meanwhile, it seems things are about to get a whole lot more taxing. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is expected to issue new guidance on how cryptocurrencies will be taxed in the coming weeks, and the taxman is licking his lips. Using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to pay for goods and services, trading, selling, mining and airdrops are all currently taxable in the U.S. But recent data suggest that people aren’t taking those rules very seriously. Only 53 percent of Americans had plans to report their cryptocurrency gains or losses, according to one survey. So the IRS is proposing a host of measures to identify and prosecute crypto tax evasion. They range from grilling family and friends, searching through social media posts and block explorer data, using electronic surveillance to determine whether a taxpayer transacts in, or maintains a balance of, Bitcoin, and issuing subpoenas to access bank, PayPal and other account data. Meanwhile, in Singapore, a more Zen approach seems to be in play. The state tax agency is proposing to exempt cryptocurrency from VAT, which is called goods and services tax there (and covers transactions which function as a medium of exchange). The same approach has already been taken by other jurisdictions, notably Australia, Germany and Portugal. If adopted by Singapore’s Parliament, the proposal will become law in January. Source
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