Data protection officers should protect and innovate

Data protection officers (DPOs) should protect, as well as innovate in their organisations — at least that’s the view of the Singaporean government.

Under the country’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), organisations are required to appoint at least one individual as their data protection officer to ensure their compliance with the PDPA.

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The role of the data protection officer

Tan Kiat How, the chief executive at the IMDA — Infocomm Media and Development Authority — explained to Information Age the department’s view of what it means to be a data protection officer.

“They shouldn’t be just a gatekeeper of what can and can’t be done,” he said. “Data protection officers should;

• Be a resource that helps provide solutions;
• Have a good grounding in data protection practices; and
• Build trust and acquire skills in data innovation to provide guidance to make better use of data.”

Instead of being a roadblock, DPOs should contribute to innovation discussions within an organisation.

“DPOs will define what monetisation looks like in terms of the data generated from the Internet of Things” — How

Data protection by design

The data protection, as Singapore understands, should help develop tools and instil a culture of data protection by design. “They should put into practice good principles of secure design of IT systems — adopt and convert data protection principles into their organisation,” said How.

Accountability-as-a-Concept — someone has to take responsibility

The approach to data

What is the message from Singapore about accessing data? What is the its approach?

The country has gone some way to answer this with the release of Asia’s first model AI governance framework — which provides guidance to private sector organisations to address key ethical and governance issues when deploying AI solutions.

The two high-level guiding principles underpinning this model framework are to help organisations ensure that:

1) Decisions made by or with the assistance of AI are explainable, transparent and fair to
consumers; and
2) Their AI solutions are human-centric.

This in turn should enhance trust in and understanding of AI, as well as acceptance of how AI-related decisions are made for the benefit of users.

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The AI model framework is accountability in practice and provides pointers on use of data. “It is a practical and constructive approach, it’s not prescriptive but descriptive: what can be done without compromising security, privacy and innovation,” asked How?

The data protection officer is the individual who brings this in and adapts to the organisation.

“Our responsibility is to understand tech trends and how they will impact policies, laws and business models,” continued How.

“We have to be open in our thinking and update regulation.

“AI places stress on the fundamental concept of transactional consent. But, maybe consent alone won’t be sufficient moving forward, hence our focus on accountability: in some situations if you place responsibility on the shoulders of organisations and whether their use of data is used correctly, it creates legitimate interest.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...