Enforcing Singapore's new Do-Not-Call Registry rules will not be easy, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Lawrence Wong said in Parliament on Monday.
He was responding to a supplementary question by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, on an exemption that allows businesses to send text messages to customers with whom they have an "ongoing relationship". These businesses do not have to check the registry before sending out such text messages.
"A lot of people are looking at how enforcement is going to be carried out," she said, citing her own experience of receiving an SMS from a tuition centre, which she doubted she had an ongoing relationship with.
"What enforcement action is going to be taken?"
Although admitting that enforcement is "an issue", Mr Wong said that the same challenge is faced in other countries with a similar registry.
"All countries that have set up DNC registries grapple with this issue - an important issue which we need to understand better."
But Mr Wong, who is also Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, assured the House that the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), which manages the registry, is committed to investigate every complaint and "follow up with prosecution if necessary".
The exemption was announced a week before the registry's launch on Jan 2, amid protests from consumers and privacy advocates.
The topic also drew questions from Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng and Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao, and Nominated MPs Tan Su Shan and Eugene Tan. Specifically, they wanted to know what was the rationale for introducing the exemption and how consumers' rights can be adequately protected.
Mr Wong reiterated the PDPC's earlier defence of the move, saying it is an expansion of options for consumers and is limited in scope.
Voice calls and one-off transactions are excluded.
"For example, if an individual had given (an) organisation his phone number in the course of enquiring about a property listing, buying a television set or other similar situations, this would not constitute an ongoing relationship," said Mr Wong.
He cited a similar exemption in the United States being "one of the most contentious issues" when its National DNC registry, which covers only voice calls, was set up a decade ago. In the United States, businesses that have an existing relationship with customers are allowed to call them.
"The PDPC did consider whether the exemption should be structured with an opt-in facility as some have suggested... but such a system would be too complicated for both consumers and organisations," he said. No other registries in the world have adopted such an opt-in facility too.