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Interview by Josh Lee | Edited by Jennifer Lim Wei Zhen

TechLaw.Fest 2018 will take place from 4 to 6 April 2018 in Singapore, bringing together the movers and shakers in the space of Technology Law and Legal Technology. In the lead-up to TechLaw.Fest, the LawTech.Asia team will be bringing to you regular interviews and shout-outs covering prominent speakers and the topics they will be speaking at TechLaw.Fest.

This week, LawTech.Asia sat down for a chat with Professor Warren Chik, Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Law. Among other things, Prof Chik specialises in topics such as Innovation, Technology and the Law.

At TechLaw.Fest 2018, Prof Chik will be moderating a discussion titled, “Smart Regulation for a Smart Nation”, which features a diverse panel of representatives from the private sector, lawyers, regulators and the finance industry. He will also be a participating in a panel on “Wising-up to the Mass Distribution of False Information”.

Image credit: SMU School of Law

Smart technology is the bedrock of the Smart Nation initiative. What are the regulatory approaches available for the regulation of smart technology?

Preliminarily, it’s important to remember that the kinds of  regulation needed in one field may be different from the type of regulation needed in another field. So, for instance, the regulation of data may be different from the regulation of the finance industry.

There are many possible approaches to regulating smart technology. Two prominent approaches are the legal approach and the technical approach. The legal approach begins by looking at the legal issues that may arise, and how to regulate from that perspective. For instance, the regulation of the Go-Jek mobile payment system in Indonesia began by identifying the legal issues that may arise from mobile payment systems, before shaping their financial regulation. Other examples of the legal approach include the regulation of data and information. An example of the technical approach is how autonomous vehicles are being regulated. Which approach to take will depend on the subject-matter one is dealing with.

Different countries use different regulatory approaches to regulating smart technologies. Are the regulatory approaches you mentioned adopted in other countries, and what are the lessons from other countries that Singapore can learn from?

Different countries have very different socio-political backgrounds. They thus have quite different policy considerations and balance economic, societal and security concerns differently. So we cannot just cherry-pick regulations from any country; we need to do what’s most suitable for Singapore.

However, we could look at some of the countries that are very advanced in each area of regulation, and see which regulations are suitable for us. This will be touched on by the panel, so stay tuned to that discussion!

Given Singapore’s context, what are some of the regulatory approaches applicable here? What are some challenges you foresee the government or private sector facing in regulating smart technologies?

Any kind of regulation must be: (1) efficient, (2) effective, and (3) comprehensive.

A sandbox provides a controlled environment where innovators and start-ups can come up with things to regulate themselves, while ensuring that what they do is in line with the government’s policies and considerations – and if it works, it’s adopted.

For financial regulation, MAS has taken the approach of using a regulatory sandbox. There are pros and cons to such an approach, but the idea is: why jump ahead and come up with laws, when you’re not even sure what is appropriate for that type of new technology? A sandbox provides a controlled environment where innovators and start-ups can come up with things to regulate themselves, while ensuring that what they do is in line with the government’s policies and considerations – and if it works, it’s adopted. Of course, there are issues with such an approach (that we’ll discuss in the panel), but it’s a very novel approach.

A more traditional approach is to use legislation and hard laws. However, this may not be entirely suitable in some areas, such as in the field of data, which requires a softer approach. For example, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) uses many different kinds of types of regulation, such as classification, licensing, and harder regulations. Then you have finance, which requires stronger compliance mechanisms. Ultimately, it all depends on the context.

Recently, laws have been passed in countries like Germany, to combat the spread of false information. What are your thoughts on this approach, and are there other aspects of false information and its ecosystem that should be regulated and addressed?

First off, I think everyone must agree that it is a problem. From that common understanding, however, there’s a lot of divergence in views. That’s because there’s a conflict between the free flow of information and speech on one hand, and on the other, the consideration that you want accurate information. These two aspects need not conflict – they can be reconciled.

The Philippines and Germany have passed laws targeted at social media and false information. I would be very careful to avoid confining a solution to regulating social media or mass media platforms. Everyone is responsible for the circulation of information. So such existing foreign regulations are not suitable because of their narrow scope, and such regulations are relevant only to the specific context in those jurisdictions.

In Singapore, section 45 of the Telecommunications Act already deals with some aspects of the transmittal of false information and the Select Committee is looking into the issue. Ultimately, the regulatory approach to minimising the spread of false information must involve all stakeholders, including communication companies, intermediaries, and technology companies.

Beyond regulation, solutions can be found within society itself. One thing that can be done is to get people to contribute the right information. For example, search engines are allowing their users to fact-check, rank, review and flag content. That’s a good approach, because it allows society to buy into the taking of ownership of information.

Ultimately, when people take ownership and understand how important accurate information is, regulation becomes more effective.

This piece of content was jointly produced by LawTech.Asia and the Singapore Academy of Law.

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