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Data Protection
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Scott Thiel
Scott Thiel
Partner & Co-Chair of Asia-Pac Data Protection and Privacy Group
T +852 2103 0519

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Singapore enacted the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (No. 26 of 2012) (‘Act’) on 15 October 2012. The Act took effect in 3 phases:

  1. provisions relating to the formation of the Personal Data Protection Commission (the ‘Commission’) took effect on 2 January 2013;
  2. provisions relating to the National Do-Not-Call Registry (‘DNC Registry’) took effect on 2 January 2014; and
  3. the main data protection provisions took effect on 2 July 2014.

The Act has extraterritorial effect, and so applies to organisations collecting personal data from individuals in Singapore whether or not the organisation itself has a presence in Singapore.

The data protection obligations under the Act do not apply to the public sector, to whom separate rules apply.

The Commission's first public consultation reviewing the Act ("PDPA Consultation") closed in October 2017, and focused on 'approaches to managing personal data in the digital economy', with topics including 'challenges for alternatives to consent' and mandatory breach notification.

Last modified 25 Jan 2018

Definition of personal data

’Personal data’ is defined in the Act to mean data, whether true or not, about an individual (whether living or recently deceased*) who can be identified:

  • from that data; or
  • from that data and other information to which the organisation has or is likely to have access.

*The Act's application to recently deceased individuals is limited to disclosure and protection of personal data where such data is about an individual who has been dead for 10 years or fewer.

The data protection obligations under the Act do not apply to "business contact information" (including name, position name or title, business telephone number, business address, business electronic mail address or business fax number) provided solely for business purposes, though the Act still governs business contact information provided by individuals solely in their personal capacity. Where the purposes of provision of business contact information are mixed (i.e. both for business and personal purposes), the Act should be adhered to.

Definition of sensitive personal data

There is no definition of ‘sensitive personal data’ in the Act.

However, non-binding guidance from the Commission indicates that sensitivity of data is a factor for consideration in implementing policies and procedures to ensure appropriate levels of security for personal data - for example, encryption is recommended for sensitive data stored in an electronic medium that has a higher risk of adversely affecting the individual should it be compromised. Where any personal data collected is particularly sensitive (e.g. regarding physical or mental health), as a matter of best practice such data should only be used discretely, for limited purposes and the security measures afforded to such data should take into account the sensitivity of the data. The Commission has also stated in its enforcement decisions that the fact that personal data is of a sensitive financial nature is a relevant factor in its decisions, and a public condition in 2017 proposed draft additional safeguards for collection, use and disclosure of NRIC numbers.

Last modified 25 Jan 2018

Personal Data Protection Commission

460 Alexandra Road
#10-02 PSA Building
Singapore 119963

T +65 6377 3131
F +65 6273 7370


Last modified 25 Jan 2018

There are no registration requirements under the Act.

While not a requirement, in April 2017 the Commission publicly encouraged organisations to register their Data Protection Officers ("DPOs") with the Commission via the Commission's website, to assist DPOs to keep up to date with development in the law.

Last modified 25 Jan 2018
Data Protection Officers

Each organisation must appoint one or more data protection officers to be responsible for ensuring the organisation’s compliance with the Act. An organisation may appoint one person or a team of persons to be its DPO. Once appointed, the DPO may in turn delegate certain responsibilities, including to non-employees of the organisation. The business contact information of the DPO must be made available to the public.

While there is no requirement for the data protection officer to be a citizen or resident in Singapore, the Commission suggests that the data protection officer should be readily contactable from Singapore, available during Singapore business hours and, where telephone numbers are provided, these should be Singapore telephone numbers.

Failure to appoint a data protection officer may lead to a preliminary investigation by the Commission. If an organisation or an individual fails to cooperate with the investigation, this will constitute an offence. As a result, an individual may be subject to a fine of up to S$10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both. An organisation may be subject to a fine of up to S$100,000.

Last modified 25 Jan 2018
Collection & Processing

Organisations may only collect, use or disclose personal data where:

  • they obtain express consent from the individual prior to the collection, use, or disclosure of the personal data (and such consent must not be a condition of providing a product or service, beyond what is reasonable to provide such product or service; and must not be obtained through the provision of false or misleading information or through deceptive or misleading practices), and have also provided the relevant data protection notice (notifying purposes of collection, use and disclosure etc.) to the individual on or before collecting, using or disclosing the personal data; or
  • there is deemed consent by the individual to the collection, use, or disclosure of the personal data in accordance with the relevant conditions of the Act; or
  • if no consent or deemed consent is given, if limited specific exclusions prescribed in the Act apply.

An individual may at any time withdraw any consent given, or deemed given under the Act, upon giving reasonable notice to the organisation.

Further, any collection, use or disclosure of the personal data must only be for the purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances, and for purposes to which the individual has been notified of. Such notification must be made in accordance with the requirements of the Act.

An organisation must also:

  • make information about its data protection policies, practices and complaints process publicly available;
  • cease to retain personal data or anonymise it where it is no longer necessary for any business or legal purpose; and
  • ensure personal data collected is accurate and complete if likely to be used to make a decision about the individual or disclosed.

There are transitional "grandfathering" arrangements for personal data collected prior to the data protection obligations in the Act coming into full force on 2 July 2014.

New data protection management programme ("DPMP") and data protection impact assessment ("DPIA") guides were published by the Commission in November 2017.

Last modified 25 Jan 2018

In disclosing or transferring personal data to third parties (including affiliates), an organisation should ensure that it has obtained the individual's deemed or express consent to such transfer (unless exemptions apply) and, if this was not done at the time the data was collected, additional consent will be required (unless exemptions apply).

The Act also contains offshore transfer restrictions, which require an organisation to ensure "comparable protection" to the standards set out in the Act when transferring personal data outside of Singapore. Mechanisms to achieve this include (this is not a comprehensive list): data transfer agreements (for which the Commission has recently released guidance, including model clauses); the individual has given consent (and provided required notices have been provided); and where transfers are considered necessary in certain prescribed circumstances (which include in connection with performance of contracts between the transferring organisation and the individual, subject to certain conditions being met). An organisation may apply to be exempted from any requirement prescribed under the Act in respect of any transfer of personal data out of Singapore. An exemption may be granted on such conditions as the Commission may require.

The Commission has published a new guide to data sharing (covering intra‑group and third party sharing) with practical non‑binding guidance for organisations, as well as DPMP and DPIA guides (see "Collection and Processing" above).

Last modified 25 Jan 2018

Organisations must protect personal data in their possession or under their control by making reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorised access, collection, use, disclosure, copying, modification, disposal or similar risks. The Act does not specify security measures to adopt and implement, however the Commission has issued best practice guidance which provides specific examples, including with respect to cloud computing and IT outsourcing.

A draft Cybersecurity Bill was published by the Singaporean authorities in 2017 ("Cybersecurity Bill"), following a public consultation, which (if passed) potentially impacts data security measures and data breach incident handling, so organisations are advised to monitor developments.

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Breach Notification

Currently, there are no mandatory requirements under the Act for data users to notify the Commission or individuals regarding data protection breaches in Singapore.  The Commission issued a best practice guide in May 2015 to help organisations manage personal data breaches effectively, and more recent guidelines provide practical tips on avoiding and managing risks such as accidental data disclosure.  It is recommended that affected individuals be notified immediately if a data breach involves sensitive personal data.  The Commission should be notified as soon as possible of any data breaches that might cause public concern or where there is a risk of harm to a group of affected individuals. Aggrieved parties may either make a complaint to the Commission, or may take out a private action in civil proceedings.  The Commission may also conduct investigations on its own motion.

However the PDPA Consultation and the Cybersecurity Bill mean there are now draft proposals to introduce mandatory data breach notifications in Singapore, so organisations are advised to monitor developments.

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Enforcement of the Act is carried out by the Commission. The powers of the Commission include giving directions to:

  • stop collection, use or disclosure of personal data in contravention of the Act;
  • destroy personal data collected in contravention of the Act;
  • provide or refuse access to or correction of personal data; and/or
  • pay a financial penalty not exceeding S$1 million.

These directions may be registered with the Singapore District Courts so that they may have the force and effect of an order of court.

The Commission published the Advisory Guidelines on Enforcement of Data Protection Provisions in April 2016. These guidelines indicate how in practice the Commission proposes to handle complaints, reviews and investigations of breaches of the data protection rules under the Act, and to approach enforcement and sanctions. Amongst other things, they set out the Commission's enforcement objectives, and guidance regarding the mitigating and aggravating factors that the Commission will take into account when issuing directions and sanctions (for example, prompt initial response and resolution of incidents; co-operation with investigations; and breach notification). The Commission has in the past couple of years stepped up its efforts to enforce the Act, highlighting the growing risks of non-compliance with the Act in Singapore.

Directions or decisions given are subject to reconsideration by the Commission, upon written application by any aggrieved party.

Directions, decisions or reconsiderations of the Commission may also be subject to appeal to a Data Protection Appeal Committee, unless the direction or decision to be appealed is the subject of an application for reconsideration, in which case such appeal would be deemed withdrawn.

Directions may only be appealed to the High Court and Court of Appeal with regard to:

  • a point of law arising from a direction or decision of the Appeal Committee; or
  • any direction of the Appeal Committee as to the amount of a financial penalty.

Any person who has suffered loss or damage directly as a result of a contravention of the Act is also entitled to pursue a private action in court. However, where the Commission has made a decision with regard to the said loss or damage, a right of private action will only lie after the decision has become final as a result of there being no further right of appeal. The court may grant to the plaintiff all or any of the following:

  • relief by way of injunction or declaration;
  • damages; and/or
  • such other relief as the court thinks fit.
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Electronic Marketing

The data protection principles in the Act apply to any marketing activities (including electronic marketing) which involve the collection, use or disclosure of personal data.

In addition, any organisation or person that wishes to engage in any telemarketing activities will need to comply with the “Do Not Call” provisions under the Act. Generally, a person or organisation who wishes to send marketing messages to a Singapore telephone number should first obtain the clear and unambiguous consent of the individual to the sending of the messages to such Singapore telephone number. The consent must be evidenced in written or other form so as to be accessible for subsequent reference; must not be a condition for supplying goods, services, land, interest or opportunity; and must not be obtained through the provision of false or misleading information or through deceptive or misleading practices. In the absence of such consent, organisations must check and ensure that the telephone number is not on a Do-Not-Call register maintained by the Commission (‘DNC Register’), unless such checks are exempted under the Act. There are also other requirements, including a duty to identify the sender of the marketing message and provide clear and accurate contact information, as well as a duty not to conceal the calling line identity of any voice calls containing such marketing message. An individual may at any time apply to the Commission to add or remove his Singapore telephone number on the DNC Register.

The Act will apply to marketing messages addressed to a Singapore telephone number where:

  • the sender of the marketing message is present in Singapore when the message was sent, or
  • the recipient of the marketing message is present in Singapore when the message is accessed.

Electronic marketing activities are also regulated under the Spam Control Act (Cap 311A), to the extent that such activities involve the sending of unsolicited commercial communications in bulk by electronic mail or by SMS or MMS to a mobile telephone number.

Last modified 25 Jan 2018
Online Privacy

Currently, there are no specific requirements relating to online privacy (including cookies and location) under the Act. Nevertheless, an organisation that wishes to engage in any online activity that involves the collection, use or disclosure of personal data will still need to comply with the general data protection obligations under the Act. For example, if an organisation intends to use cookies to collect personal data, it must obtain consent before use of any such cookies. For details of the consent required, please see the Collection & Processing chapter. The Commission has published non‑binding guidelines providing practical tips on pertinent topics such as securing electronic personal data and building websites, and a public consultation as 'approaches to managing personal data in the digital economy' was undertaken by the Commission in Summer 2017.

Last modified 25 Jan 2018
Scott Thiel
Scott Thiel
Partner & Co-Chair of Asia-Pac Data Protection and Privacy Group
T +852 2103 0519
Last modified 25 Jan 2018