Dated: 5 February 2002
The National Internet Advisory Committee (NIAC), today announced two major industry initiatives for the Internet that will promote the development of a robust industry self-regulation framework in Singapore and spur greater confidence in the use of the Internet.
At a news conference chaired by its Chairman, Professor Bernard Tan, the NIAC released its latest Annual Report containing details of two major voluntary codes - a Model Data Protection Code for the Private Sector and an Industry Content Code - which the NIAC hopes will eventually be widely adopted by the industry.
Model Data Protection Code for the Private Sector
The NIAC has successfully completed work on revising its earlier E-Commerce Code into a more comprehensive Model Data Protection Code for the Private Sector. The Model Data Protection Code is a voluntary Code outlining NIAC's views on what constitutes "fair information principles". The Code, which is modelled on internationally recognised standards, serves to establish minimum standards for electronic data protection and promote the harmonisation of data protection principles among the various sectors. The NIAC feels the Model Data Protection Code will help facilitate the growth of electronic commerce in Singapore and render the establishment of any data protection regime an easier task in future. The Model Code is the result of a year's work by the NIAC's Legal Sub-Committee which comprises a wide cross section of representatives from key groups concerned with data protection in Singapore including representatives from the small and medium enterprises, IT, health and media industry sectors. The NIAC has also held discussions with the National Trust Council (NTC) - an industry led body that aims to build confidence in e-transactions among businesses and consumers and promote e-commerce growth in Singapore. NTC has agreed to adopt the Code and take it a step further by leading a public consultation effort to seek wider feedback on the Model Code from the industry as well as members of the public. The NIAC will continue to support and provide assistance to the NTC in its public consultation effort and help see the Code through to its implementation.
Industry Content Code
In another initiative to help build up a culture of responsibility among Internet industry members and encourage industry self-regulation, the NIAC has developed an Industry Content Code. The Code, which was drawn up in consultation with industry members, lists down industry best practices that will complement existing regulations and codes of practice governing Internet content in Singapore. The Industry Content Code is meant to be a voluntary Code that can either be adopted by industry members in its totality, or incorporated into existing user contracts, such as the Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) that Internet service providers have for their subscribers. The NIAC is pleased to note that the Singapore Information Technology Federation (SITF), which played a key role in developing the Code, has agreed to take the lead in adopting the Code into its proposed trust mark Code of Practice. The NIAC understands that the SITF is planning to apply to be an Authorised Code Owner (ACO) under NTC's TrustSg Programme. The NIAC recognises that the introduction of the Industry Content Code is only the beginning of the process of setting up an effective and responsible industry self-regulation framework in Singapore. The NIAC will continually refine and update the Industry Content Code to ensure that it remains relevant in the rapidly evolving Internet industry. It also recognises the need to promote wider adoption of the Code among different segments of the IT and Internet industry, and strongly encourages more industry groupings and organisations to adopt the Industry Content Code.
The NIAC believes that industry adoption of the Industry Content Code will send a strong signal to the public that the Internet industry is prepared to act responsibly and commit itself to protecting users, especially the young, from harmful Internet content.
Public Education and Family Access Networks
The NIAC supports and commends the efforts of the Parents Advisory Group for the Internet (PAGi) in reaching out to over 23,000 parents through its education programmes and workshops. It strongly encourages parents to support and participate in PAGi's activities which serve to empower them with the knowledge and tools to supervise their children's online activities. The NIAC believes that special focus should be given to promoting greater awareness of content management tools like Family Access Networks (FAN) offered by the three main Internet Service Providers (ISPs) here. The NIAC has also held discussions with key Internet service providers to look at ways to promote greater public awareness of Family Access Networks (FAN) so that more parents will adopt this service.
The NIAC also notes that parents are keen on having additional features within the current FAN service that will afford them greater flexibility. For example, parents want the flexibility of selecting the level of filtering for specific users, and the ability to track the sites that their children visited. The NIAC has channelled such feedback to the ISPs. It urges the ISPs to develop and offer parents such features for FAN, as well as step up efforts to promote FAN positively as a value-added service.
The NIAC also notes that as broadband usage becomes increasingly pervasive among Singaporeans, there is a pressing need to address parental concerns that harmful materials are reaching children over the broadband platform. The NIAC recommends that broadband service providers offer parents the option of subscribing to filtered broadband Internet access, so that families can enjoy high-speed Internet access while ensuring that their children are protected from harmful content on the Internet.
The Disabled's Access to the Internet
Another area that the NIAC focused on last year is improving disabled people's access to the Internet. The NIAC believes that the Internet can greatly benefit and enhance the quality of the lives of the disabled by facilitating their day-to-day tasks as well as offering them greater opportunities for social interaction. In addition, equipping the disabled members of the society with the necessary skills to use IT will help ensure that they have more opportunities to contribute to society. The NIAC feels that more can be done to help the disabled gain access to the necessary assistive equipment and training to help them get on the Internet. In this regard, the NIAC's Public Education Sub-committee has worked with several Volunteer Welfare Organisations (VWOs) to look at ways to help make assistive technology and training more readily available to people with disabilities.
Despite the economic slowdown, Singapore continues to see a healthy growth of the Internet. Broadband growth has been particularly robust, with the number of broadband users reaching 450,000 in 2001. The NIAC notes that the Internet is increasingly becoming a medium for delivering a wide array of interactive and multimedia programming to TV sets via broadband Internet, cable and wireless platforms. In this fast-changing Internet environment, the NIAC believes that policies governing the Internet need to be robust enough to deal with the issues and challenges posed by convergence and new mobile and wireless technologies. The NIAC will continue to assist the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) to track these developments and make recommendations to ensure that the regulatory framework remains relevant in the new media landscape and conducive for industry growth.
However, the NIAC believes that the way forward is not to tighten regulations. Instead, the industry should develop and adopt best practices and codes of conduct that will help address the public concerns over the dangers that exist in cyberspace. The NIAC thus encourages the industry to support the self-regulation movement even as they focus on their bottom lines, as this will send a strong signal to the people that the industry is prepared to act responsibly and is committed to protecting users. This will in turn establish greater confidence in the medium and facilitate the growth of the Internet in Singapore.