What is Personal Data?
Personal data refers to data, whether true or not, about an individual who can be identified from that data; or from that data and other information to which the organisation has or is likely to have access. Personal data in Singapore is protected under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA).
The PDPA establishes a data protection law that comprises various rules governing the collection, use, disclosure and care of personal data. It recognises both the rights of individuals to protect their personal data, including rights of access and correction, and the needs of organisations to collect, use or disclose personal data for legitimate and reasonable purposes.
The PDPA provides for the establishment of a national Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. The DNC Registry allows individuals to register their Singapore telephone numbers to opt out of receiving marketing phone calls, mobile text messages such as SMS or MMS, and faxes from organisations.
Objectives of the Personal Data Protection Act
Today, vast amounts of personal data are collected, used and even transferred to third party organisations for a variety of reasons. This trend is expected to grow exponentially as the processing and analysis of large amounts of personal data becomes possible with increasingly sophisticated technology.
With such a trend comes growing concerns from individuals about how their personal data is being used. Hence, a data protection regime to govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal data is necessary to address these concerns and to maintain individuals’ trust in organisations that manage data.
By regulating the flow of personal data among organisations, the PDPA also aims to strengthen and entrench Singapore’s competitiveness and position as a trusted, world-class hub for businesses.
How does the Personal Data Protection Act work?
The PDPA will ensure a baseline standard of protection for personal data across the economy by complementing sector-specific legislative and regulatory frameworks. This means that organisations will have to comply with the PDPA as well as the common law and other relevant laws that are applied to the specific industry that they belong to, when handling personal data in their possession.
The PDPA takes into account the following concepts:
Consent – Organisations may collect, use or disclose personal data only with the individual's knowledge and consent (with some exceptions);
Purpose – Organisations may collect, use or disclose personal data in an appropriate manner for the circumstances, and only if they have informed the individual of purposes for the collection, use or disclosure; and
Reasonableness – Organisations may collect, use or disclose personal data only for purposes that would be considered appropriate to a reasonable person in the given circumstances.
Application of the Personal Data Protection Act
The PDPA covers personal data stored in electronic and non-electronic forms.
The data protection provisions in the PDPA (parts III to VI) generally do not apply to:
Any individual acting in a personal or domestic basis.
Any employee acting in the course of his or her employment with an organisation.
Any public agency or an organisation in the course of acting on behalf of a public agency in relation to the collection, use or disclosure of the personal data. You may wish to refer to the Personal Data Protection (Statutory Bodies) Notification 2013 for the list of specified public agencies.
Business contact information. This refers to an individual’s name, position name or title, business telephone number, business address, business electronic mail address or business fax number and any other similar information about the individual, not provided by the individual solely for his or her personal purposes.
These rules are intended to be the baseline law which operates as part of the law of Singapore. It does not supersede existing statutes, such as the Banking Act and Insurance Act but will work in conjunction with them and the common law.
When did the Personal Data Protection Act come into effect?
The PDPA took effect in phases starting with the provisions relating to the formation of the PDPC on 2 January 2013. Provisions relating to the DNC Registry came into effect on 2 January 2014 and the main data protection rules on 2 July 2014. This allowed time for organisations to review and adopt internal personal data protection policies and practices, to help them comply with the PDPA.
Development of the Personal Data Protection Act
In the development of this law, references were made to the data protection regimes of key jurisdictions that have established comprehensive data protection laws, including the EU, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flow of Personal Data, and the APEC Privacy Framework. These references are helpful for the formulation of a regime for Singapore that is relevant to the needs of individuals and organisations, and takes into account international best practices on data protection.
Three public consultations were conducted since 2011 to seek feedback on the proposed data protection regime. The public consultation sought the public’s views on topics including the coverage of the proposed law, the proposed data management rules and transitional arrangements for organisations to comply with the new law. For more information on the public consultations, please visit the MCI website.
You can access the Act and related subsidiary legislation on Singapore Statutes Online.
- Personal Data Protection (Composition of Offences) Regulations 2013
- Personal Data Protection (Do Not Call Registry) Regulations 2013
- Personal Data Protection (Enforcement) Regulations 2014
- Personal Data Protection Regulations 2014
- Personal Data Protection (Appeal) Regulations 2015
Other Subsidiary Legislation
- Personal Data Protection (Statutory Bodies) Notification 2013
- Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (Commencement) Notification 2014
- Personal Data Protection (Prescribed Law Enforcement Agencies) Notification 2014
- Personal Data Protection (Prescribed Healthcare Bodies) Notification 2015
- Personal Data Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Parties to civil proceedings relating to the PDPA may also wish to refer to the Rules of Court, Order 105.