Singapore Privacy Office Clarifies Public Information Exception

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By George Lynch

Singapore’s privacy commissioner for the eighth time this year clarified the scope of the privacy law’s exception for publicly available information, dismissing three complaints against companies that disclosed personal information, the regulator announced June 12.

The Singapore Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) found that because the data in question could be found on a list of building owners, and some of the data was on the Singapore Land Registry, which can be accessed by the public, the personal data disclosed by in the case fell within the publicly available exception of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

The PDPC had received complaints that property managers at three condominiums publicly posted voter lists, as they had a statutory duty to do, that contained personal data without consent of the individuals. The PDPA requires that prior consent be obtained before personal information is collected, used, or disclosed, subject to some exceptions, including if the information is publicly available.

“The decision holds that with a bit of searching of public records, any member of the public could have linked the names on the voters list for condominium general meetings to the number of units they hold,” Mark Parsons, a partner at Hogan Lovells LLP in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg BNA.

The decision is based on Singapore’s “unique exemptions for publicly available data,” Ken Chia, a privacy partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP in Singapore, told Bloomberg BNA.

Parsons agreed, saying that the exemption for publicly available data is a more controversial aspect of the decision, “because Singapore is relatively unique in the region in that its privacy law exempts publicly available information.”

The decision interprets the scope of the exemption in Singapore’s law, so “it is quite a useful precedent,” even though the complaints were dismissed,” Chia said.

The personal information that was disclosed included names, unit numbers, and, in the case of two condominiums, the residents’ voting shares.

Chia said that the PDPC has been actively pursuing similar cases, and this is the eighth such case before the PDPC this year.

Singapore’s ‘Unique’ Privacy for Public Info

The treatment of publicly available data in Singapore is important, Parsons said, because it represents a case of a legal system that doesn’t protect publicly available data. He contrasted it with Hong Kong, where clearly public data is protected personal data.

Hong Kong and other Asia-Pacific countries protect publicly available information so that the data may only be used and disclosed for the particular purpose for which it was collected, Manuel Maisog, a partner at Hunton & Williams LLP in Beijing told Bloomberg BNA.

Maisog used as an example a borrower who entered bankruptcy proceedings, which are in the public domain. Such personal information may only be used for purposes of the disposition of the bankruptcy proceedings, not for another purpose, such as to embarrass the individual or deny him or her an employment opportunity, Maisog said.

To contact the reporter on this story: George Lynch in Washington at gLynch@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

For More Information

The full Singapore Personal Data Protection Commission opinion can be found at http://src.bna.com/pRk

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