Singapore's route to being smart nation calls for delicate balance of data sharing and privacy

SINGAPORE - Singapore's journey to becoming a smart nation is fraught with challenges, particularly in the area of regulation, said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister in charge of Singapore's smart nation programme.

On one hand, the Government is pushing public agencies to share more data to facilitate innovation to enhance citizens' quality of life. On the other hand, it has a duty to fend off potential criminals who abuse the data, jeopardising citizen's privacy and national security, he noted.

"We don't want to make any commitments prematurely," when asked if new regulations are needed.

"We are studying this very carefully so that we can get the balance right between using all the available data and protecting people's privacy and the security of the country," he said at the sidelines of Singapore University of Technology and Design's roundtable on innovation in cities on Monday.

"We have to pay careful attention to protect people's privacy by anonymising data... that we don't have sensitive data falling into the wrong hands or being abused," he added.

Other challenges include persuading public agencies to publish timely information that is "machine readable", said Dr Balakrishnan. Otherwise, creators of applications, who may come from the private sector, will not be able to extract the information easily for prompt analysis.

One way is for public agencies to share the building blocks of government apps already developed - or application programming interface (API) in geekspeak - so innovators can quickly build improved versions without having to recode everything from scratch.

"This requires a change in bureaucratic attitudes and operational procedures," he said.