Singapore Must Grow Beyond Technology, Gov't Says

SINGAPORE (08/09/2000) - Having excelled in building a robust IT infrastructure, Singapore must now focus on developing the "soft" issues, including security, policies, and its legal environment, according to the country's regulatory body, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

Singapore must move beyond simply growing its "hard" infrastructure and towards creating an environment that boasts of other proficiencies such as secure payment structures, conducive policies, and sound legislation, urged Yong Ying-I, chief executive officer, IDA.

The challenge is to establish a brandname for Singapore, where the country must now aim to grow beyond being one that is known for having good technology, Yong said.

The government envisions to position Singapore as a trusted global hub in the Internet economy, one in which e-commerce plays the dominant mode for business and consumer transactions, according to Minister for Communications and IT Yeo Cheow Tong.

"To achieve this, we will need to create an environment in which an e-lifestyle is pervasive, and where the hard and soft e-commerce infrastructure is well-developed," Yeo explained.

A major policy and regulatory hurdle is the uncertainty about how our rules and regulations apply to the Internet age, he noted.

"The government recognizes that the Internet poses new challenges that could not be foreseen when our laws were drafted many years ago," Yeo said. "We will review existing laws and regulations, and bring them up-to-date to meet the needs of the new economy. Policies and laws must be clear and transparent, as uncertainties will only inhibit business innovation and growth."

A transparent regulatory framework is necessary to build greater trust among companies to allow for electronic transactions, and to create higher levels of confidence for online businesses against fraud and abuse, IDA said. The framework will focus on four areas -- media commerce, cyber security, privacy protection, and intellectual property rights, said the regulatory body.

To kick off this initiative, the government will identify the content providers from those who merely host content on behalf of others, a move that Yeo said would help promote the growth of data hubs.

More details involving issues such as security, privacy protection, and Auctioneers' Act, will be released in the coming months, he revealed.

But while greater transparency helps, regulations and policies should not be too intrusive and complex, cautioned Dane Anderson, vice president of Internet research, International Data Corp. (IDC) Asia-Pacific. Anderson noted that businesses generally prefer to operate without government involvement.

Companies want to be able to move quickly, preferring to do things on their own, and without having to fill out numerous regulatory forms or comprehend various legislative restrictions which they perceive as time-consuming and prohibitive, Anderson said.

"Generally, businesses don't like too much government meddling in their affairs," he explained.

"So yes, laws and some transparency are needed, but they should be set in such a way that businesses don't see them as intrusive."

Although the U.S. government is looking at issues such as online privacy and legalizing digital signatures, taxation is something it is staying away from because they want e-commerce to spread, he said.

Anderson noted that Silicon Valley, for example, had developed very much on its own, where the U.S. government plays a very small role.

There are areas that need to be addressed quickly, and there are areas where government can monitor and deliberate on before making decisions, he added, noting that an issue worth looking into is privacy, which most users do care about.

"Privacy is a very popular legislation for Web consumers who don't like the idea of their privacy being violated through the Internet and e-commerce," he said. "They want to know how their personal information is being tracked and used, and what the limits are."

"Some of these issues are also more intricate because the Internet is borderless. How will Singapore regulate privacy if the server sits outside the country?"

So regulators need to prioritize, identify the critical areas, and focus on what their laws can achieve and not simply on what they can regulate, Anderson said.

"It's a tricky issue," he concluded. "Any policy that is put in place should facilitate, rather than occupy the time that businesses can spend on other things."

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