New law sets out directions for data sharing among Singapore Government agencies

New law sets out directions for data sharing among Singapore Government agencies

On January 8, the Public Sector (Governance) Bill (“the Bill”) was
passed in the Singapore Parliament, setting out directions for data sharing
among government agencies.

The Bill was first read on November 6, 2017. It aims to set
out a consistent governance framework across the public bodies in Singapore and
to support a whole‑of‑government approach to the delivery of services in the
Singapore public sector. Division 2 of the Bill focuses on data sharing
directions and prescribes safeguards against abuses.

Directions may be made for data sharing by a relevant
minister (as described in Division 1) for all or any of the following purposes:
1) to uphold and promote the values of the Singapore public sector; 2) to
secure economies or efficiencies for the Singapore public sector; 3) to improve
(directly or indirectly) the efficiency or effectiveness of policies, programme
management or service planning and delivery by Singapore public sector agencies
(whether by carrying out data analytics work or otherwise); 4) to ensure
business continuity; 5) to ensure accountable and prudent stewardship of
Singapore public sector finances and resources; 6) to manage risks to the
financial position of the Government; and 7) to support a whole-of-government
approach in the discharge of the Singapore public sector agencies’ functions.

According the Bill, when a data sharing direction is given, Singapore
public sector agencies and their officers are authorised to share the
information under the agency’s control with another Singapore public sector
agency to the extent permitted by the data sharing direction despite any
obligation as to confidentiality under the common law. However, this does not
override any obligation as to confidentiality because of legal privilege or

Unauthorised disclosure and improper use of information ( the
disclosure or access is not in accordance with any data sharing direction, and
the individual does so either knowing that the disclosure or access is not in
accordance with that direction or reckless as to whether the disclosure or
access is or is not in accordance with that direction) carries penalty for the
guilty individual in the form of a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment
for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.

The resignation from the Singapore public sector agency by the
individual is immaterial. Criminal proceedings may still be instituted even
after he/she leaves the service of the Singapore public sector agency.

The same penalty is applicable to unauthorised
re-identification of anonymised information.

Clauses 46 in the Bill onwards make an amendment to a
standard secrecy provision in several Acts of public bodies which today
prohibit disclosure by employees of public bodies of information controlled by
the public body. The amendment provides for disclosure where allowed by law
(which includes the Bill).

This amendment read together with clause 6 (which deals with
the effect of a direction) clarifies that the standard secrecy provision does
not prohibit data sharing between Singapore public sector agencies, where that
is permitted by the data sharing direction given to them.

Clause 107 amends section 3(2)(b) of the Statutory Bodies
and Government Companies (Protection of Secrecy) Act (Cap. 319) to further
facilitate the expeditious sharing of data between Singapore public sector

A truly whole-of-government approach and enhanced data
sharing among government agencies could potentially lead to significant improvement
in the design and delivery of government services. For instance, the delivery of
government services structured around key moments of life, which is one of the strategic
smart nation projects
, would necessitate easier data sharing between
agencies. (It means that citizens do not
have to approach different government agencies to get services they might need
at moments like going for higher education or getting married or having a child.
The agencies will come together to deliver whatever the citizen requires.

However,concerns were raised in the Parliament regarding
security and data privacy, as reported by Channel
News Asia
and Today.
Minister in charge of public service innovation, Ong Ye Kung, who is also the Minister
for Education (Higher Education and Skills), sought to address the concerns
saying that public servants can only access data based on security clearance,
and there has to legitimate purpose or need. Data will be classified by sensitivity
levels and appropriate guidelines applied for collection, transfer and handling
of data. Anonymised data will be used in areas where it would serve the purpose
and individuals’ details are not required.

Access the complete text of the Bill here.

Featured image:
Yoshimasa Niwa from TokyoJapan/ CC-BY-2.0