Dated: 4 March 2003
The National Internet Advisory Committee (NIAC) urges greater industry adoption of its voluntary codes of conduct, and has set up a Cyber Wellness Task Force to look into ways to educate users on the right values and precautions to take when using the Internet. These are just some of the key recommendations to the Media Development Authority (MDA) and the industry, contained in the NIAC's latest 2002 Annual Report.
Industry Co-Regulation Movement
The NIAC firmly believes that co-regulation in partnership with industry is the way forward to deal with Internet issues of public concern. "Rather than just comply with national regulations, the industry should do more by having its own standards and adopting internationally recognised best practices and industry codes of practice", said Professor Bernard Tan, Chairman of the NIAC at a news conference held today.
In 2001, the Committee developed two voluntary industry codes to help spur the co-regulation movement. They are the Industry Content Code for the Internet and the Model Data Protection Code for the Private Sector. Over the past year, the NIAC has worked with key industry players to adopt the Industry Content Code, and supported the National Trust Council (NTC)'s efforts to adopt and implement the Model Data Protection Code.
Model Data Protection Code for the Private Sector
The NTC has adopted NIAC's Model Data Protection Code for the Private Sector under its TrustSg programme for online businesses. The Committee welcomes this development and notes that the NTC has launched its enhanced Model Code after conducting a three-month public consultation exercise to seek feedback on the NIAC's Model Data Protection Code and performing an extensive review of the feedback received.
"I am pleased that the NTC has adopted the Model Code under the TrustSg programme. I believe this is a significant step forward in fostering trust in our digital environment. We hope more organisations will find that adopting the Model Code can have a positive effect on their e-businesses, by gaining consumers' confidence that personal information is handled in a responsible way", said Mr Charles Lim, Chairman of NIAC's Legal Sub-committee, which was responsible for formulating the NIAC's Model Data Protection Code.
Industry Content Code for the Internet
The NIAC's second code, the Industry Content Code for the Internet, details best practices for the Internet and IT industry. The Committee is encouraged by the support shown by the Singapore Information Technology Federation (SITF) in adopting the Industry Content Code. The NIAC is working with several other organisations, such as CASETrust, CommerceNet Singapore (CNSG), and the three main Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to adopt the code into their Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) or respective organisational codes. The Code will also be reviewed regularly to ensure it sufficiently addresses new forms of risk that could come with other emerging forms of new services.
The NIAC strongly believes that by adopting these codes, the Internet industry will send a strong signal to the public that it is committed to safeguarding the interests of its users and help foster greater public confidence in the use of the Internet. It urges the Internet industry here to wholeheartedly support the co-regulation movement.
Industry action to address public concerns
The NIAC also urges the industry to enhance its social responsibility role by taking proactive steps to address public concerns over undesirable and inappropriate content for the young. One way to achieve this is for industry players to gather and form industry associations which will take the initiative to collectively set some standards and address public concerns over undesirable content and services. A notable example of this has been demonstrated in the audiotext services industry.
In the past year, the Committee has worked with the Audiotex Service Providers Association (ASPA) to take stronger measures to deal with undesirable content on chatline sevices. It is encouraged by the positive response of ASPA, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) and the relevant media owners in refining existing guidelines for these services. ASAS, for example, has included new guidelines for the advertising of audiotext services in the recently released updated version of its Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP). The NIAC feels that such industry efforts should be further strengthened and encouraged.
Public Education On The Use Of The Internet
Enabling the Disabled through the Internet
In the area of public education, the NIAC strongly feels that disabled persons should be enabled to use the Internet as a tool to overcome their disability and to open up greater opportunities for them. Prof Tan said, "Access to e-government and online shopping services can help make day-to-day tasks easier for disabled persons, as well as allow them to contribute to the economy, learn new things, and interact with others more meaningfully."
The Committee is working with three Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) on securing resources for two key areas, which are:
affordable access to assistive devices which enable those with disability to use the computer and the Internet;and
IT training that is tailored to meet the specific needs of the different disability groups.
The NIAC will continue to facilitate the effort by the three VWOs to help the disabled gain access to assistive technology and training. It will also support related initiatives such as the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and others so that this group of people are not left behind in the IT revolution.
Empowering the Public to use the Internet positively
With technology and new media services penetrating the everyday lives of Singaporeans, the NIAC sees a strong need to educate the young on how to use these technologies safely and responsibly, and to make positive and wholesome content readily available to young children.
The NIAC feels that the development of Web portals containing comprehensive and engaging content for young children below the age of 12 should be supported. The NIAC recommends that such portals can act as safe havens, or "walled gardens", which will allow young children to use the Internet in a positive and enriching way while protecting them from the negative aspects of the Internet.
Prof Tan emphasised, "With the young increasingly using the Internet and related technologies in their everyday lives, it is critical that they are aware of the risks as well as the benefits of these new technologies and develop the necessary skills to use them safely and responsibly."
To do this, the NIAC has formed the Cyber Wellness Task Force to look into ways to create a movement towards a healthy Net culture, or "cyber wellness", among Singaporeans.
"The cyber wellness movement is an effort to deepen our understanding of the Internet's influence on the young. The movement seeks to inculcate in the young a sense of what is right and wrong behaviour in cyberspace and cultivate a healthy Net culture among Singaporeans," said Mr Michael Yap, Chairman of the Cyber Wellness Task Force.
The Cyber Wellness Task Force will continue its efforts this year to look into:
developing a body of best practices, value system and ethical guidelines that help promote a healthy cyber culture among Singaporeans, particularly the young;
supporting grass-root programmes that are in line with these objectives;and
recommending ways to incorporate education in online safety values and ethical guidelines into programmes and initiatives at a national level.
Family Access Networks
The NIAC also recommends that the industry offer the end users, particularly parents, effective tools to manage children's use of the Internet. The Committee notes that the Family Access Networks (FAN) services currently offered by the three ISPs do not go beyond basic filtering. It strongly encourages the ISPs to include in FAN services more flexible features such as allowing parents to set different levels of content filtering for specific users, track the sites visited and send alerts to parents when prohibited sites have been accessed. The ISPs should also make such content management features available to broadband users.
The NIAC emphasises the need for stronger industry efforts in co-regulation to address the challenges posed by the Internet. With the increasing popularity of interactive and multimedia content delivered over the various platforms, especially among the young, the NIAC feels it is important to inculcate the appropriate values in the young and equip them with the skills to use new technologies safely and responsibly. In view of this, the Committee has launched an effort to start a movement to promote cyber wellness and values among Singaporeans, particularly the young.
Ensuring the young are protected from harm and undesirable content is also the responsibility of the industry, says the NIAC, which feels that its members need to be more proactive in addressing public concerns over inappropriate content and services that are made available to the young.
The Committee hopes to see the industry actively develop an effective co-regulatory framework in Singapore by adopting the NIAC's voluntary codes of conduct and developing an effective co-regulatory framework to enforce the codes. It believes this will assure the public that the industry is prepared to act to protect the interests of users and boost public confidence in the use of the Internet. In its new term, the NIAC will continue to help cultivate a climate of responsibility in the Internet and new media industry and promote cyber wellness in Singapore.