Singapore: Regulatory collaboration in support of the Smart Nation program23.09.2020
Regulatory collaboration among sectoral regulators
Singapore is one of the world’s fifth-generation (G5) regulatory champions with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) identifying the country as a digital leader with a mature ICT framework. Singapore has been able to transform the country’s industry and government institutions, harnessing technology and attaining the benefits of digitalization and cross-sector, collaborative regulation. Particularly, regarding collaboration, Singapore leads the ITU G5 benchmark, together with countries such as Botswana, Norway, and the United Kingdom (ITU 2020).
Heading towards digital transformation
As early as 1980, Singapore started its transformation towards digitalization with the recognition of ICTs as a crucial element of domestic growth and international competitiveness. Since then, national plans have aimed at computerizing and connecting the public and private sectors, enhancing service standards as well as Singapore’s international competitiveness, and building up IT capacities (Smart Nation 2018).
One of Singapore’s most important and comprehensive initiatives is the Smart Nation program. Launched in November 2014, this programme aims to transform Singapore via technology. The Smart Nation initiative is driven by Singapore’s economic growth and competitiveness; it is supported by the government, which acts a catalyst of innovation and development across all areas, addressing cross-sectoral challenges via technology in key areas, including health, education, transport, urban solutions, and finance. Under the Smart Nation program, a digital government must provide the proper conditions and tools to not only shape the digital economy, but also to prompt the development of a digital society capable of realizing the full benefits of new technologies.
To become a Smart Nation, Singapore has implemented a series of plans to transform its economy, government, and society. These plans include the Digital Economy Framework for Action and the Digital Government Blueprint. These programs build up Singapore’s main pillars (see figure below) and involve the participation of every industry, business, and government agency in order to advance Singapore’s efforts towards digitalization, capacity building, and technology solutions (Smart Nation 2018).
Smart Nation’s main pillars
Source: Adapted from Smart Nation 2018.
The digital economy pillar is aimed at helping Singapore’s industries and workforce embrace opportunities in the digital economy. Policy, regulation, and standards are some of the crucial enablers for the realization of Singapore’s economic goals, creating a system and environment that appropriately balance enabling businesses with maintaining trust. At the core of this pillar, initiatives such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), and data protection secure the development of Singapore’s data ecosystem and are grounded in collaboration among agencies, ministries, and governments (IMDA 2018).
Singapore Cybersecurity Strategy
The Singapore Cybersecurity Strategy (SCS), establishes the foundations to build a resilient infrastructure, develop a safer cyberspace, and boost the digital economy. Having become an international centre for trade, finance, and logistics, cybersecurity constitutes one of the major fronts for consolidation of Singapore’s digital transformation. For instance, the Critical Information Infrastructures (CIIs) protection programme, establishes solid and systematic cyber risk management processes across all critical sectors of the economy. Additionally, at the international level, and within the framework of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Singapore actively cooperates to enhance the international response to cyber risks and crimes by supporting the exchange of cyber rules and capacity building projects, such as the ASEAN CERT Incident Drill (ACID) and the ASEAN Cyber Capacity Program (ACCP) (CSA 2016).
Internationally, Singapore is recognized as a hub for digital and AI capacities. With programs such as AI Singapore (AISG), the city-state is promoting national partnerships that bring together government, industry, and researchers to advance the AI ecosystem and provide solutions to address issues in sectors of particular relevance for Singapore’s businesses and citizens. In order to prompt AI development, Singapore opted for a holistic approach through the design of a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (NAIS), identifying ecosystem enablers that spur AI development and adoption throughout the city-state (see figure below). One major enabler is collaboration at the international level, under which Singapore will work with international partners to structure their AI approach and develop other ecosystem enablers (Smart Nation 2019).
Singapore’s ecosystem enablers
Source: Smart Nation 2019.
The NAIS includes an initial set of projects in areas of strong social and/or economic impact in Singapore, such as intelligent freight planning, seamless and efficient municipal services, chronic disease prediction and management, personalized education through adapting learning and assessment and border clearance operations. Nevertheless, other high impact national AI projects are being developed, such as the AISG programme, to procure synergies and concentrate efforts to advance and promote Singapore’s AI capabilities. The programme, launched by the National Research Foundation (NRF), connects Singapore’s research institutions, start-ups and AI product developers. The AISG is led by a government partnership between the NRF, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), the Economic Development Board (EDB), the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), SGInnovate, and the Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS). As AI can be applied in multiple industries, the AISG programme aims to develop an AI ecosystem, building up AI capabilities and creating local talent in order generate positive impacts at all social and economic levels.
In terms of data protection, initiatives in Singapore include the country’s participation in cross-border frameworks to enable data flows, such the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors (PRP) systems.
The APEC CBPR system provides a practical mechanism for participating economies to implement the APEC Privacy Framework in an international, cross-border environment, and to provide a mechanism for organizations to implement uniform approaches for global access to and use of personal information in a manner that fosters trust in the protection of personal information. One of the core elements of the APEC CBPR system is enforcement, carried out via the Cross-border Privacy Enforcement Arrangement (CPEA), a multilateral instrument that enables privacy enforcement authorities (PEAs) to cooperate in the enforcement of privacy laws. Under the CPEA, APEC members’ PEAs participating in the CPA assist one another by considering other participants’ requests for assistance and referrals for investigation or enforcement. They also share information and cooperate on the investigation or enforcement of privacy laws.
Digitalization is at the heart of Singapore’s government transformation efforts. The main purpose of this pillar is to develop knowledgeable, innovative, world-class, and digital-oriented public entities. The Digital Government Blueprint (DGB) programme sets inter-agency strategies and goals for government transformation through digitalization and implementation of technology.
Digital Government Blueprint
Source: Digital Government Blueprint.
The DGB describes how the government will organize around Singapore’s digital transformation mission. In line with this, all government agencies have a role to play in achieving the goals established by the DGB programme.
Support public officers
One of the essential components of the DGB programme is to support public officers. This means that the government workforce must be supported by a digitally enabled workplace and digital tools. Additionally, public officers must be able to collaborate and work effectively with other officers across a variety of sectors using digital means. Moreover, the DGB programme includes the appointment of Chief Digital Strategy Officers in ministries and agencies to further strengthen the integration between policy, operation, and technology.
Common digital platforms and data sharing
Singapore recognizes the need to build common digital and data platforms. In order to enable government institutions to develop seamless, adaptable, and relevant solutions for the provision of digital services, the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) developed the Singapore Government Tech Stack (SGTS). This is a common platform through which government institutions develop their own services and applications in order to fulfil their public mandates.
Accordingly, Singapore has stepped up its cross-sector collaborative efforts by introducing a centralized data sharing platform for all government institutions. Titled the Application Programming Interface Exchange (APEX), the platform was developed by the Government Digital Services team at GovTech. This platform allows data that one agency collects and stores to be used by other authorities and approved businesses within a secure and controlled environment.
Another government initiative to support cross-sector data sharing between government entities was the release of the Public Sector Governance Act (PSGA) and the Government Instruction Manual on IT Management (“IM on IT Management”). These are policy and regulatory tools that set up data sharing rules between agencies. They enable agencies to use government verified data, in a safe and appropriate way, to provide services to citizens without the need to require extra documentation or sensitive information.
In terms of the directions on data sharing, for instance, the PSGA establishes that where a data sharing direction or order is given to a Singapore public sector agency or public body, these entities and every member of that agency or public body, are authorized to share the information with another Singapore public sector entity to the extent permitted by the data sharing direction, despite any obligation as to confidentiality.
APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). 2017. APEC Privacy Framework. Singapore: APEC. https://www.apec.org/-/media/APEC/Publications/2017/8/APEC-Privacy-Framework-(2015)/217_ECSG_2015-APEC-Privacy-Framework.pdf.
CSA (Cyber Security Agency of Singapore). 2016. Singapore’s Cybersecurity Strategy. Singapore: CSA. https://www.csa.gov.sg/news/publications/singapore-cybersecurity-strategy.
ITU (International Telecommunication Union). 2020. Global ICT Regulatory Outlook 2020. Geneva: ITU. https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-d/opb/pref/D-PREF-BB.REG_OUT01-2020-PDF-E.pdf.
IMDA (Infocomm Media Development Authority). 2018. Digital Economy Framework for Action. Singapore. https://www.imda.gov.sg/-/media/imda/files/sg-digital/sgd-framework-for-action.pdf?la=en.
Smart Nation. 2018. Smart Nation: The Way Forward. Singapore: Smart Nation and Digital Government Office. https://www.smartnation.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/smart-nation-strategy_nov2018.pdf?sfvrsn=3f5c2af8_2.
Smart Nation. 2019. National Artificial Intelligence Strategy: Advancing our Smart Nation Journey. Singapore: Smart Nation and Digital Government Office. https://www.smartnation.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/national-ai-strategy.pdf?sfvrsn=2c3bd8e9_4.Last updated on: 19.01.2022