Singapore's 2017 Smart Nation Initiatives

As major strides are made in digital technology, the Singapore Government is taking aggressive measures to facilitate innovations by both the public and the private sectors. Clever financial incentives, as well as suitable policies have been implemented to nurture a culture of experimentation and entrepreneurship.

On 20 March 2017, the Singapore Government announced the formation of Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) in the Prime Minister’s Office which will be responsible for:

  • Applying digital and smart technologies to improve citizens’ lives in partnership with public agencies and industries;
  • Developing digital enablers and platforms for Smart Nation, to grow economic value and catalyse innovation by companies and citizens; and
  • Driving digital transformation for the public service, to strengthen Government ICT infrastructure and improve public service delivery.

In line with its goal of digitally transforming the country, the Singapore Government also announced its ambitious plans on the same day to "turbo charge" a set of Smart Nation initiatives. The plans aim to speed up the implementation of three Smart Nation initiatives – a unique online identity, a common e-payments platform, and a national sensor network islandwide.

A unique Internet identity and simpler e-payments

The proposed Mobile Digital ID system will uniquely identify every Internet user and be used to authenticate online transactions with the Government. It may also be used for transactions with commercial entities. It is expected that this will replace the existing SingPass which is currently used to access Government services through a 2-Step-Verification system.

Separately, a Central Addressing Scheme will be launched by the middle of 2017 to allow users to transfer funds across participating banks to other parties using their mobile numbers. This will eliminate the need for a paying party to obtain the bank account number of the receiving party. While similar applications exist currently, they do not operate across banks.

Greater access to real-time information on traffic and weather conditions

There are also plans to expand the national sensor network which collects and transmits traffic camera and environmental data. This provides a wealth of information that could potentially be used for multiple applications such as managing traffic flow, matching demand for public transport with supply, and providing more accurate weather updates. Such data will also be shared through open platforms to allow third-party developers to create people-centric solutions.

Likely impact of such initiatives

In general, these initiatives are likely to provide hugely attractive commercial opportunities for technology firms with the relevant expertise to provide the necessary solutions. With Singapore being a pioneer of such Smart Nation plans, there is huge potential for growth through both regional and global adoption of such technology if its implementation proves successful here. Beyond this, the commercial spending and investment generated by the implementation of such technology may also be an important driver of economic growth.

Both the Central Addressing Scheme and Mobile Digital ID system are likely to stimulate the growth of E-commerce in Singapore. The greater ease of transacting online represents big improvements on the current mobile and online banking services currently available which require One-Time Pins, physical tokens and bank account details. In this respect, there may be a need to review the regulation of online transactions and payment services (such as in the Electronic Transactions Act) to adapt to the changing landscape of E-commerce.

Additionally, the Mobile Digital ID system will bolster Singapore's standing as a financial services hub. With the ability to uniquely identify each Internet user, there is the potential for a wider range of financial services that can be provided online. Transactions will also be performed faster and more securely. With this technological edge, Singapore will likely be at the forefront of new financial services innovations that will provide new challenges, but also opportunities, for regulators and commercial advisers in unchartered areas.

The initiatives will also spur Singapore's development as an Intellectual Property (IP) hub. The innovative technology that will be used to drive these initiatives will need to be protected and, in that respect, Singapore's good standing in the global IP arena will prove invaluable. Additionally, the push by the Government to incentivise research and innovation will be another strong pull factor in attracting IP rights holders to register their IP rights here.

On the flipside, there will also be legal issues concerning the privacy of citizens who will be uniquely identifiable online, the use of the data received by the Government through such measures, and the security of any new technology use for online transactions and identification. Such issues may cause some resistance in the acceptance of these Smart Nation initiatives if they are not adequately addressed.

This article is produced by our Singapore office, Bird & Bird ATMD LLP, and does not constitute legal advice. It is intended to provide general information only. Please contact our lawyers if you have any specific queries.

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