Data Protection: What’s happening?
INTEGRITY BEAT - Henry J. Schumacher (The Freeman) - July 26, 2019 - 12:00am

How our data is collected, managed and utilized is an issue more ASEAN citizens – more Filipinos - need to be concerned about.

The ongoing digital transformation in ASEAN, where an increasing number of people are turning to the Internet for their banking, retail and entertainment needs, means that data governance has become more important than ever.

Data governance is a set of quality control disciplines for collecting, managing, using, improving, maintaining, monitoring and protecting both, personal and non-personal data.

The region’s data governance was in the spotlight in January when three ASEAN countries reported data breaches.

* Singapore fell victim to a widely publicized data theft of address of 5,400 HIV-positive Singaporeans and 8,800 foreigners, with those on the list fearing they could face discrimination if their names were made public.

* Malaysia was also in the news for a data breach of its own in January when personal details of more than one million students and alumni of a well-known Malaysian university were leaked to a tech portal.

* In the Philippines, Cebuana Lhuillier, a financial service provider, said that the data of 900,000 of its clients had been accessed without permission.

According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks Perception Survey last year, data protection issues being the general public’s next biggest worry. Cyberattacks were identified as the third most feared threat while data theft and fraud were fourth – but these issues are not matters which most people would lose sleep over – yet!

But it is in everyone’s interest to know how our data is being governed and managed. We need to think about how our information is being used and how we want data governance to fit in with the social sentiment of society at large.

With data being used to drive growth, retain customers, create more efficient processes and a variety of other implementations, the need for good data governance is essential for organizations to remain competitive today.

Existing frameworks

While ASEAN countries have existing data privacy laws, data governance frameworks are only now being rolled out.

ASEAN saw the adoption of the two initiatives – the ASEAN Framework on Personal Data Protection and the ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance, which now forms the basis of the region’s internet governance and privacy regulation.

However, in such a diverse region as ASEAN – with 650 million people spread out across 10 countries – enforcing a “one-size-fits-all” framework will be especially challenging. Digital transformation within each country is at a different level.

In my view, ASEAN needs to take lessons from the EU and come up with a proper framework that truly protects the privacy of its people without emboldening state powers. If ASEAN were to come up with its own regulations over data, it needs to be comprehensive and all-encompassing similar to the one enforced by the EU.

The Philippines did that already, the Philippine Data Privacy Act is very much in line with the EU’s GDPR. However, while the EU is strictly implementing its law, the National Privacy Commission lacks muscle in fining the growing list of companies involved in data breaches!!! The NPC allegedly will become tougher by year-end.

Furthermore, the EU endorsed horizontal provisions for cross-border data flows and personal data protection in trade negotiations. This means that it is likely that deals that involve any flow of data would require the country dealing with the EU to have similar regulations to that of the GDPR.

Just as the internet is not limited to traditional borders, the laws governing it must transcend borders too.

With initiatives such as these in place, ASEAN will be better positioned to share best practices and progressive policies that facilitate the growth of the digital economy and protect its citizens’ data.

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