Jurisdiction - Singapore
Reports and Analysis
Singapore – Proposed Data Protection Law.

1 November, 2011

 
Ministry Issues Further Public Consultation on Framework Details for National “Do-Not-Call” Registry
 
INTRODUCTION
 
The Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (“MICA”) has issued a consultation paper relating to the setting-up of a Do-Not-Call (“DNC”) registry. This follows favourable feedback on this proposal, which was raised in MICA’s earlier consultation on setting up a consumer data protection framework in Singapore (“DP Consultation”). 
 
 
With the establishment of a national DNC registry, all organisations which send marketing messages would have to check their telephone number lists against the DNC registry to ensure that they do not make calls to any telephone numbers which have been registered.
 
Public feedback is sought on the scope of coverage of the DNC registry, the design of the DNC registry (including how phone numbers are to be registered and how organisations are to check the register) and the implementation of the DNC regime. 
 
Consultation closes on 28 November 2011. 
 
BACKGROUND
 
Currently, organisations make use of telemarketing to market their goods and services, either through person-to-person calls, SMS, MMS or faxes. However, such marketing messages may not be welcome by the individuals who receive them, causing annoyance and sometimes, unwanted costs.
 
Some limited industry self-regulation currently exists, but only in the financial sector. The Contact Centre Association of Singapore (“CCAS”) has issued a set of Telemarketing Guidelines for the Financial Industry (“Telemarketing Guidelines”). However, the Telemarketing Guidelines are not compulsory, do not contain an enforcement mechanism and are only applicable to CCAS members. 
 
MICA has therefore proposed to set up a national DNC registry to provide a central location for organisations to check marketing contacts lists and to facilitate individuals’ opting-out of unsolicited marketing calls or messages. 
 
SCOPE OF COVERAGE
 
Types of messages covered 
 
It is envisaged that the DNC registry will enable individuals to opt out of marketing messages. 
 
Marketing messages comprise telephone calls, SMS or MMS messages, or faxes, which contain marketing or commercial elements. If one of the purposes of the message is to (i) offer to supply, advertise or promote goods or services, or (ii) advertise or promote the suppliers or prospective suppliers of goods and services, the message will be considered a marketing message. Apart from goods and services, advertisements for land or interests in land, or business or investment 
opportunities will also be included in the definition, following the position taken in Hong Kong and Australia.
 
Types of entities covered
 
MICA proposes that the DNC registry should accept registrations of both residential and business telephone numbers. This means that companies can also opt out of receiving marketing messages if they so decide. 
 
Also, it is proposed that only local telephone numbers issued under the National Numbering Plan (ie. Singapore telephone numbers) will be allowed to be registered with the DNC registry. Hence, local organisations which send marketing messages only to overseas recipients will not be required to check the DNC registry.
  
MICA proposes that organisations which send marketing messages to Singapore telephone numbers, whether directly or indirectly, will be required to set up an account with the national DNC registry operator (“DNC Operator”). This will ensure that organisations with a presence in Singapore do not circumvent the compulsory requirement to check the DNC registry by outsourcing their marketing functions to companies outside Singapore. In an outsourcing situation, both the company which outsourced the marketing function and the company who provides the marketing call service will have to set up an account with the DNC Operator. Setting up of the account is free-of-charge.
 
DESIGN OF DNC REGISTRY
 
Registration of phone numbers 
 
It is proposed that the registration of phone numbers on the DNC registry be free-of-charge for individuals who wish to opt out of marketing messages. The consultation paper does not indicate whether companies wishing to register their numbers with the DNC registry would be required to pay a fee. 
 
MICA proposes to use the Caller-ID method of registration, in which the person who wishes to register his telephone number would have to use that number to call a toll-free number. The toll-free number would be equipped with a system which automatically detects the telephone number which placed the call through caller line identification. As an additional option, a person may also block his number by filling in an online form and providing proof of ownership of the telephone number, such as a copy of his latest telephone bill. 
 
Validity period and withdrawal of registration  
 
Once registered, the telephone numbers will remain on the DNC registry as long as they are not withdrawn or terminated.
 
Withdrawals of registered numbers will follow a similar procedure to that of registration. Telephone numbers which cease to be linked to an active telecommunication service will also be periodically removed from the DNC registry. For this purpose, telecommunication licensees would be required to provide their list of terminated Singapore telephone numbers to the DNC registry on a regular basis.
 
Obligations on organisations and exceptions  
 
With the establishment of the DNC registry, all organisations which send marketing messages would have an obligation to ensure that they do not send such marketing messages to registered telephone numbers. Sending a marketing message without first checking that the number is not registered with the DNC registry would be an offence.
 
Organisations may continue to send marketing messages to phone numbers registered on the national DNC registry if they have obtained explicit consent from the relevant individual. 
 
MICA had also considered whether to provide an exception where the organisation has an existing business relationship with the individual. For example, a customer who has a broadband plan with a service provider might be interested in a promotion to re-contract his existing broadband plan at a discounted rate. However, on balance, MICA is of the view that if such individual had registered with the DNC registry, he has expressed a preference not to be sent any marketing message, regardless of whether it might benefit him. MICA therefore proposes not to make an exception for existing business relationships. 
 
Use of blocked/unlisted numbers  
 
In addition to the obligation to check marketing telephone lists against the registered numbers at the DNC registry, organisations will also be required to ensure that their originating telephone number used to send the marketing message can be detected and displayed. They should not use blocked or unlisted numbers.
 
Checking the DNC registry  
 
MICA proposes that organisations adopt the “filtering” method of checking telephone numbers, which is practiced in Australia. In this method, the organisations send their telephone numbers to the DNC registry, which “filters” the lists by removing the registered numbers and then returns the “filtered” lists to the organisations.
  
This method is preferred to having the organisations periodically download the registered list of numbers from the DNC registry and then eliminate those numbers from their marketing call lists. It minimises unnecessary transfer of data to the organisations and potential misuse of the registered numbers. 
 
MICA also proposes to offer a small quantity number lookup service for organisations with small-scale marketing operations, either at a low fee or free-of-charge.
 
Subscription fees 
 
Organisations which check the DNC registry will have to pay an annual subscription fee. MICA will release more details on the fees at a later date. 
 
IMPLEMENTATION
 
Penalty and enforcement regime 
 
In the DP Consultation, it was proposed that a Data Protection Commission (“Commission”) be set up to enforce the provisions of the Data Protection Act. The Commission will oversee the enforcement of obligations under the DNC registry. It will have the power to investigate and take enforcement actions against organisations which have breached the DNC registry requirements.  
 
Generally, an organisation will be in breach of the requirements of the DNC registry if: 
 
(a)  it sends a marketing message to a telephone number without first checking whether the number is listed on the DNC registry; 
 
(b) it sends a marketing message to a telephone number listed in the DNC registry; or 
 
(c)  (where organisations are allowed to download the list of registered numbers) it misuses the telephone numbers obtained from the DNC 
registry. 
 
Financial penalties for breach may be up to a maximum of S$1 million.  However, the Commission may also provide more specific penalty ceilings which would be more apt in situations where contraventions are non-malicious and affect few consumers (eg. a penalty of up to S$1000 per telephone number contacted). 
 
Spam Control Act 
 
MICA has also observed that there is an interaction between the requirements under the DNC registry and the provisions of the existing Spam Control Act (“SCA”).   
 
The SCA requires any person who sends unsolicited commercial electronic messages in bulk to comply with certain requirements, such as tagging the message with an tag and enabling the recipient to unsubscribe. 
 
With the establishment of the DNC registry, organisations will only be allowed to send marketing messages to telephone numbers which are not registered under the DNC registry or if the organisation had obtained express consent from the individual. Under such conditions, the SCA will still apply to those marketing messages if they fulfil the SCA description, ie. if they are unsolicited commercial electronic messages sent in bulk. 
 
In a situation where the individual had registered his number with the DNC registry but had given an organisation express consent to be sent marketing messages, and the individual sends an unsubscribe request in response to a spam message from that organisation, MICA proposes not to deem the unsubscribe request as a withdrawal of the individual’s express consent to receive marketing materials. This is because the individual’s intention could be to unsubscribe only from unsolicited messages sent in bulk (ie. spam) but not other marketing messages from that organisation.
  
If the person wants to avoid receiving all marketing messages, it is proposed that he should go through the organisation’s prescribed process of withdrawing consent instead. 
 
 
REFERENCES
 
Please click here to access the Public Consultation on the Proposed National Do-Not-Call Registry for Singapore
 
 
For further information, please contact:
 
Lim Chong Kin, Drew & Napier
chongkin.lim@drewnapier.com
 
Loh Wei Hao, Drew & Napier
weihao.loh@drewnapier.com 

 

 

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