Singapore’s data bar
The Singapore economic success story is well known: a resource-poor, tiny city state transitions to a first-world economy in the space of a generation. It continues to be a model and source of inspiration for ambitious nation builders worldwide, from Abu Dhabi to Rwanda. Key to Singapore’s success has been a knack for being ahead of the curve: it pre-empted the liberalisation of the global financial system to become a vital cog in the world economy. Now, it is seeking to do the same in the digital economy. While other countries in the ASEAN region worry multinationals by flirting with data localisation rules, Singapore has thrown open the doors, taking a typically focused approach to developing its digital economy: it has introduced measures to encourage companies to establish their data centres in the country and launched Smart Nation, an initiative that looks to digitalise the way the city state is run.
There is a growing list of legal advisers to counsel companies wanting to take advantage of this openness. Local heavyweights Drew & Napier, Allen & Gledhill, WongPartnership and Rajah & Tann are go-to names, but there are also a handful of international and local firm tie-ups of note, including Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow, Pinsent Masons MPillay and OC Queen Street.
WongPartnership’s data practice, helmed by Chung Nian Lam, is part of the firm’s TMT group. Three other partners and eight associates cover a range of matters including cybersecurity and data breaches, and corporate and regulatory advisory on data protection. Nian Lam oversees the practice as a whole, while Joy Tan is more involved in regulatory defence and investigative work, and Kylie Peh handles transactions.
A major international bank, healthcare insurance company and travel services provider recently called on the firm after suffering data breach incidents, while others have hired the firm to get GDPR ready and to conduct regulatory and cybersecurity reviews. One client hired the firm for counselling and advisory for the new Data Protection Trustmark certification, while another sought out WongPartnership’s expertise to help it collate patient health records and integration into the National Electronic Health Records system.
Rajah & TannView more
Rajesh Sreenivasan and Steve Tan are respectively the head and deputy head of Singapore-headquartered Rajah & Tann’s TMT department. They lead a team of five partners and seven associates, many of whom have extensive regulatory and technological experience.
The firm was involved in policy decisions during the planning phase for Singapore’s new data protection law back in 2012, and has helped organisations across multiple industries comply with the law and deal with investigations by the Singapore data protection regulator. The team offers numerous services – for the likes of Google, Skype, Apple and Amazon – that range from providing data protection officer services and conducting data breach simulations for financial institutions, to giving advice on the deployment of new technologies and the launch of new media platforms. In 2017, the firm advised Avaloq Evolution on a US$100 milliondeal to implement large-scaleIT outsourcing.
OC Queen StreetView more
OC Queen Street is the Singaporean branch of Osborne Clarke. Its managing director, Chia-Ling Koh, leads the firm’s data practice, and special counsel Benjamin Ang focuses on cyber law and policy. They are joined by five associates who focus on digital business. The firm’s data practice forms part of its digital business offering, and is split across the M&A, IP, regulatory, banking, venture capital, private equity, disputes and competition teams. Companies that turn to the firm hail from the fintech, medtech, AI, e-commerce, telecoms, proptech, cybersecurity and e-payments subsectors; the practice also serves traditional companies that are going through digitalisation.
OC Queen Street offers a range of data-related services, such as advising on commercial arrangements involving the transfer of data, highlighting where data breaches have taken place and acting as counsel for matters involving the Personal Data Protection Commission of Singapore. Clients include Vodafone, Dyson, social media networks and online platforms, such as e-commerce operator Lazada.
Drew & NapierView more
Chong Kin Lim leads a data protection practice with two other partners in Drew & Napier’s TMT department. The practice, which is focused on competition, technology and data protection, works mainly with private sector clients, but has also been at the forefront of data protection laws in Singapore – for example, helping the Info-communications Media Development Authority and Personal Data Protection Commission devise and implement legislation. Drew & Napier continues to represent both organisations in advisory, enforcement and policy work – several of the team’s lawyers have been seconded to the PDPC.
Baker McKenzie Wong & LeowView more
Ken Chia and Anne Petterd are Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow’s data practice heads in Singapore, leading a team of five other principals and two associates. The firm mostly handles data work within its TMT group, but some is carried out by its IP, disputes and compliance teams. The Singapore TMT group is a long-standing panel member to governmental data agencies and advises on cross-border data transfers, regional privacy schemes and the adequacy of data regulations.
Clients of the data advisory team operate in a broad range of different sectors, including cloud computing, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals. Data protection lawyers within the team deliver advice on data breaches and compliance, and also review the likely impact of regulation on business operations across several jurisdictions. Indeed, thanks to the wider firm’s global presence, multi-jurisdictional work is a forte, with Baker McKenzie having recently devised a survey for a recognised cloud computing service provider regarding outsourcing regulations in 10 different Asia-Pacific jurisdictions.
Allen & GledhillView more
Nine partners focus on data-related matters at Allen & Gledhill. Stanley Lai leads the firm’s intellectual property practice, and Tham Kok Leong is the head of its technology and corporate intellectual property group. The partners are joined by 16 qualified lawyers and one technology consultant.
The firm lacks a stand-alone data practice, but regularly advises on e-commerce, data privacy and protection issues, and cybersecurity, and provides a wide range of commercial agreements in these areas. It currently represents healthcare provider SingHealth in matters linked to a high-profile hack. Other recent work includes guiding an online property site through an investigation by the country’s privacy commissioner, which resulted in no penalty for the client; advising the party to a dispute over a data outage; advising Global Switch, a data centre provider, on a number of its contracts; and helping DataCentre One with the design, construction and fitting out of a new data centre.