The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) recently released a public consultation paper seeking feedback on the proposed data protection law for Singapore. The proposed law is expected to come into force next year and will focus on the protection of personal data, including mobile phone numbers and identity card numbers. Apart from providing a baseline set of data protection rules, the proposed law will likely see the introduction of a National “Do-Not-Call” Registry (DNC Registry).
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DNC Registry overview
The DNC Registry will allow individuals to register their phone numbers to opt-out of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls, SMS and fax messages from all organisations in Singapore. With a DNC Registry, organisations will be required by law to check the DNC Registry to ensure that they do not make telemarketing calls or send SMS or fax messages to the numbers registered.
The DNC Registry will most likely be administered by the Data Protection Commission (DPC) which will be the regulatory body empowered to oversee compliance with the proposed law. Individuals who have registered with the DNC Registry and continue to receive unsolicited telemarketing calls, SMS or fax messages may make a complaint to the DPC. The DNC Registry should be viewed in tandem with the penalty and enforcement regime of the proposed law which may provide for the imposition of financial penalties of up to SGD1 million for non-compliance. The concept of a DNC Registry is not unique to the data protection regime and other countries in the region such as India have already established a similar registry since 2007.
At present, consumers rely on industry self-regulation via voluntary codes of conducts such as the Code of Ethics published by the Contact Centre Associate of Singapore (Code). The Code is a list of guidelines to telemarketers in Singapore and includes provisions on the setting up and maintenance of organisation-specific “Do-Not-Call” lists. Consumers can request to opt-out of telemarketing calls by an organisation which has adopted the Code. However, as the Code is voluntary and lacks enforcement provisions, compliance with the Code is weak and individuals in Singapore continue to be inundated by unsolicited telemarketing calls, SMS and fax messages.
The DNC Registry may impose additional compliance costs on organisations engaging in telemarketing activities. Notwithstanding these restrictions, MICA hopes that the proposed law including the DNC Registry, will benefit telemarketers by allowing them to effectively target a genuine group of consumers interested in receiving information from the organisation.
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DNC Registry and SPAM
The DNC Registry as presently envisaged by MICA does not provide for the opting out of receiving unsolicited e-mails. This is governed by the Spam Control Act enacted in 2007 (Act). The Act requires unsolicited e-mail messages to display the label <ADV> in their subject headings and to provide a valid return contact for consumers to unsubscribe from the distribution list. When an individual has unsubscribed to a distribution list, organisations are to refrain from sending him further e-mails. The Act adopts a civil liability based regime, and an aggrieved individual is required to commence legal proceedings against an offending organisation to enforce their rights which could be prohibitively costly. As such, compliance with the Act is weak and there has been a strong response from individuals that unsolicited e-mail be included under the DNC Registry. The inclusion of e-mails as part of the DNC Registry could see amendments to the Act.
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The draft bill of the proposed law should be available after the close of the consultation period, which ends on 25 October 2011. We will keep you updated on any developments in this area. The link to MICA’s consultation website is available here: www.mica.gov.sg/dpconsultation.
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