Trust a key element to propel the digital economy: Asia Pacific ICT ministers

(From left) Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) secretary-general Areewan Haorangsi, President Halimah Yacob and Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran at APT's 40th anniversary celebrations.
(From left) Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) secretary-general Areewan Haorangsi, President Halimah Yacob and Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran at APT's 40th anniversary celebrations.PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - The efforts to harness digital technologies to create new opportunities must be anchored in trust so that individuals, businesses and governments can engage in the new digital economy with confidence, top officials from the Asia-Pacific regions agreed on Wednesday (June 26).

This digital push must also address the issue of personal data protection across borders, cyber security and the trust that new technologies such as artificial intelligence could be used to do good for society.

The statement follows a two-day meeting in Singapore where telecommunications and Infocommunications Technology (ICT) ministers from 32 countries and territories set out five strategic goals for the sector in the next five years.

Among the goals, digital trust was singled out as a key area that members must be committed to work on.

"We aim to encourage trusted and secured systems which promote the protection of data privacy, facilitate free and secure flow of information, and are resilient towards cyber threats so that people can engage in online activities with confidence and openly share information online," said the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT), an intergovernmental organisation focused on regional cooperation in telecommunications and ICT.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the organisation.

At a press briefing after the close of the meeting, Singapore's Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran told reporters: "When we are talking about the digital economy and the benefits that the new facilities and services that are being enabled, the flip-side and the tempering consideration is the implications of security and how we ensure trust."

"This is key because if you want to fully reap the benefits of the digital economy then people must be able to engage with it with the confidence that their data and whatever information that they are sharing on these platforms will be utilised appropriately," he said.

When asked if security concerns over Huawei's telecoms equipment and allegations by the United States that the Chinese firm's technologies are used for spying was discussed by the group, Mr Iswaran said this was "not explicitly discussed".

Secretary-general of APT Areewan Haorangsi said the statement provides the guideline for the group to move together towards a common vision.

But this does not mean the group would be able to develop a set of common rules on issues such as personal data protection.

Mr Iswaran said while countries may have different approaches to the issue, there will be commonalities that allow for the flow of data. Countries can find "common standards" where they can all subscribe to and then transact on data in a confident manner.

But, this cannot happen overnight as different countries are approaching it from different starting points, he added.