The Blue Oceans for the Data Protection Officers (DPO)

By: Sonny Zulhuda

I recently concluded my talk at this event called Data Protection Excellence Network Forum 2019 upon invitation by Singapore Management University (SMU) and Straits Interactive on Tuesday this week (11/6/2019).

Featured together in the opening panel session with me were Commissioner Raymund Enriquez Liboro (Chairman of the Philippines National Privacy Commission), Dr Yudhistira Nugraha (Ministry of Communications and Informatics of Indonesia) and Kevin Shepherdson (Straits Interactive Singapore) discussing the trends and challenges of data protection law in the region and the new market demands for Data Protection Officers (DPO). The event with over hundred attendees were officiated by Dr Lim Lai Cheng who is the Executive Director of the SMU Academy.

Each of us spoke about the regional development of the data protection laws in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore respectively.

Malaysia had first enacted the law in 2010. Both the Philippines and Singapore followed the suit in 2012. Indonesia is currently preparing a draft bill and is expected to legislate by next year (2020). In term of enforcement, Singapore has recorded dozens of imposition of fines and notices against contravention of their personal data protection law. Meanwhile, the Philippines may only expect enforcement to begin next year in 2020.

In Malaysia, efforts to implement the law come in a combination of prosecution, inspection, establishment of codes of practices as well as public education.

There are in Malaysia at least five successful prosecutions of data users who contravened the PDPA 2010. Besides, it was noted that six sectoral data fora had registered their Codes of Practices (COP) including the banking and insurance sectors, electricity, telecommunications, aviation, and legal services.

In 2018 alone, the office of PDP Commissioner has carried out at least 57 inspections on data users nationwide. Empowered under section 101 of the PDPA 2010, such inspection is meant to promote the compliance of the law while trying to correct and improve the practices by data users in term of processing personal data.

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There is one interesting finding from the talk session. Each of the four countries commonly view that it is necessary legally for the data users to appoint a Data Protection Officer, a specifically designated high-level official to oversee the increasing challenges of data governance. Singapore and the Philippines have this in their laws. Indonesian draft bill includes this. And Malaysian government looks out to consider this matter in their ongoing review of the law.

This DPO is a blend of new skill. Straits Interactive noted that each lawyers and IT professionals make up to about 30% of the DPOs. Others come from business managers, HR, accountants, marketing as well as others. Therefore there is now an emerging need to somehow standardise the skill, hence the need for certifications. The good news is, this skill is acquirable.

In that Forum crowded by more than hundred of data users and data protection professionals from Singapore and the region, the demand for this market could not be overstated. It is simply obvious and there to grab.

So the ultimate message we had for all the lawyers, IT professionals and virtually everyone.. Is that there is a blue ocean in front of us now for the highly demanded data protection professionals. Let us swim there!

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Data Breach a Test to Our Digital Resilience

By: Sonny Zulhuda
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Malaysian public has recently been perturbed by a series of personal data breach one after another. While the investigation is taking place, one can only expect that what has surfaced may only be a tip of an iceberg.
As the country embraces digital economy and aims at a cashless society by 2020, this data security crisis becomes a part of the equation. More digitised information and more synchronised data mean a bigger risk of data breach calamities. As a country, there is no backing out from this equation even though that means we have to learn it hard.
As a consequence, a data breach is not a matter of ‘whether’ but is a matter of ‘when’ it will happen. This requires us to adopt a risk management approach. Failure of managing the risks can be increasingly costly. The problem is, it is too often when we realise there is a data, it may be already too late. The alleged leak and illegal sale of Malaysian telecommunications data are said to have happened years ago. By now, we are already five years too late!
Time is of the essence here. As we start to learn about the breaches that took place, swift actions are warranted. There are few points to consider by all the stakeholders.
Firstly, data users can do the least by keeping the public informed about what is going on.
Even though our PDP law does not oblige data users to notify data subjects about any breach, this is warranted for transparency and trust preservation, and hence their business continuity plan.
Secondly, we should treat this as an issue of national security.
Not only because massive data of the majority of the public is affected, but also because those data come from the telecommunications and financial industries which are deemed among the ten critical national information infrastructures (CNII) as outlined by the Malaysian National Cyber Security Policy (NCSP) 2006. So, data security under this CNII must be given utmost priority. Both public and private sectors must cooperate in dealing with the crises.
Thirdly, it is time to test the mechanism of our law.
These incidents of a personal data breach either maliciously or negligently occurred, will need to be tested against the Personal Data Protection principles enshrined in the Act. The authority needs to speed up the activation of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) 2010 after some “day-nap”. Other agencies need to help in accordance with the statutory powers granted to each of them.

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The year 2017 is notably the beginning of some successful prosecutions under the Act, which is a crucial milestone in itself. On a positive note, we should take this crisis as an opportunity to also prove our legal mechanism. 

On top of that, what we are facing now is something bigger: it is testing our resilience as a nation. The challenge is more than a damage control: it is to deal efficiently with the massive data crisis like what is happening now.

This is not a one-off duty as data security is a process rather than a result. As Vince Lombardi was once famously quoted, it is not so much about how we fall down, but rather on how to raise back. And by “we” I mentioned in this last paragraph, it is you and me and every one of us the individuals to whom the personal data actually belong to.

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