VPN technology can't be outlawed: British minister

She also suggests Singapore can learn from Europe's bid to create 'digital single market'

Virtual private network (VPN) technology cannot be outlawed even if it is used for accessing unauthorised content from overseas.

This is the view of Britain's Minister for Intellectual Property Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, who told The Straits Times: "You can't outlaw a key technology."

VPN, which extends a private network across a public network, such as the Internet, has legitimate uses - for instance, securing corporate access to information over the net, she added.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who arrived in Singapore yesterday for a two-day visit, witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Britain's Intellectual Property Office and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) to explore ways to protect and derive economic benefits from intellectual property rights.

Her comment comes even as more consumers in Singapore are using VPN to stream movies from United States service providers such as Netflix and Hulu that block access from overseas.

INFLUENTIAL VOICE IN REGION

Singapore sits in the apex of the future single market in Asean... we can look at some of these issues in the future.

BARONESS NEVILLE-ROLFE, referring to what the Britain-Singapore intellectual property MOU would allude to

In Australia, lawmakers are considering blocking VPN under new copyright laws proposed in March this year to counter piracy and the access to content that is blocked in their region.

In Singapore, consumers do not necessarily break any laws for streaming blocked content from legitimate video-streaming sites.

Consumers, however, may be breaching these online content service providers' terms of use, experts say.

Still, these problems can be tackled by making more services available online and across more markets.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe cited recent attempts by the European Union to create a "digital single market" for online firms in Europe as a learning point for Singapore.

Specific proposals, for instance, to let people access the same legitimate content and services anywhere in Europe, are expected by year-end, she said.

"Singapore sits in the apex of the future single market in Asean... we can look at some of these issues in the future," she said, referring to what the MOU would allude to.

Among other objectives, the MOU is aimed at facilitating the sharing of best practices in intellectual property (IP) rights protection and research, and patent registration, to bolster both nations' goals to become IP hubs.

"Singapore is an influential voice on issues of IP in the Asean region," she said.

Mr Tan Yih San, chief executive of Ipos, said: "This MOU reaffirms our mutual commitment to increase cross-border IP cooperation and provide a robust IP system for businesses and creators looking to expand into the UK, and those seeking to venture into the Asean region."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2015, with the headline 'VPN technology can't be outlawed: British minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe