Opening Remarks by Minister for Community, Culture and Youth, and Second Minister for Law, Mr Edwin Tong SC, at TechLawFest 2023
21 Sep 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
Justice Aedit Abdullah
Ladies and gentlemen
1. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us.
2. I want to start by thanking Justice Aedit, Chief Executive of Singapore Academy of Law (SAL), Yeong Zee Kin, and so many at SAL, who made today happened – in some ways against some odds, as we have not had a fully in-person conference for some time.
3. As you have heard from Justice Aedit earlier, the world has vastly changed since the last TechLaw.Fest.
4. The theme of this year’s TechLaw.Fest is “This is What’s Next”. I thought this is very apt in the realm of law and technology. Both are forward-looking, and multi-faceted that we constantly, even in practice, ask ourselves “what’s next”.
5. Bill Gates, in a 2001 interview, said “the advance of technology is based on making it fit in, so that you don’t really even notice it, and it becomes part of everyday life”.
6. I think many of us can resonate with this in many ways. In fact, if we think how we conduct ourselves today, how we move around, how we communicate, how we socialise, without the internet, WiFi and smartphones, which have become so integral to our lives, we feel almost unequipped without them.
7. But when it comes to the practice of law, I am not yet convinced that that is where we are.
8. Some people said that law and technology are like oil and water for lawyers. They do not quite mix. But I think COVID-19 has somewhat changed this perspective.
9. As of now, technology does apply to some aspects of legal practice – online legal research, virtual hearings – and some lawyers do use legaltech tools to manage their office, manage their work and portfolio of clients.
10. But in general, my sense is that technology has not fully pervaded into the workstreams and into the way in which we interact with one another as practitioners in the legal industry as well as the clients.
11. MinLaw recently engaged around 50 law firms as part of our ongoing outreach. We regularly speak to law firms, to get a dipstick sense of the sentiments in the legal industry.
12. We asked these 50 law firms what is their sense of legal technology?
13. We found that besides using legaltech to manage their documents and firm matters, many still however, use, store and refer to their documents manually, producing their first draft of documents from scratch, sometimes literally by cutting and pasting from their previous precedents. I think that has been the way in which a lot of transactions work have been done, not so much with AI, let alone generative AI.
14. But I am convinced that this will change over time, because, as I said earlier, technology touches every aspect of our lives. Over time, it will touch almost every aspect of our practice.
15. There will be a point in time when the meld of technology and law becomes so profound that they will interact and shape the development of one another. As Justice Aedit said earlier, the technology of law and the law of technology, I think soon, will become amorphous. For this to happen, the legaltech ecosystem will have a key role to play.
16. Today, given the theme of this year’s TechLaw.Fest, I would like to share with you two main points.
a. First, my perspective of how legaltech has developed to date.
b. Second, and perhaps more importantly, my views on how these developments will impact the law and law reforms, human capital development and societal interactions.
17. I hope this will give you some food for thought on the role that each of you, in your different sectors, as thought leaders, can play in the legal ecosystem.
Evolution of legaltech
18. It may come as a surprise that the legal sector started embracing technology in the 1950s when dictation machines became very popular and commonplace.
19. For the younger lawyers who do not know what a dictaphone is, it is a gadget that you speak into when you are alone in your office. To the outside world, you look a little mad as you are speaking to a device, sometimes quite animatedly. You had to give it to a secretary to transcribe. Unlike today where you can dictate and straightaway, it is transcribed. We did not have any of that.
20. Then the Lexis digital library in the 1970s, fax machines in 1980s, and computers and emails in 1990s.
21. When I came into practice, it was the tail-end of the fax machines. It was one of those devices, if you left it long enough in the sun, it would fade away. Then the instructions you get from the clients will disappear and you are left scratching your head as to what exactly you were required to do.
22. In the 2000s, there was a stronger push for technology. We started seeing “enabler technology”, such as document management systems (DMS) that facilitate the digitalisation of a firm’s operations.
23. I remember that it was around the late 1990s or early 2000s that we had some technology in the courts. But this technology was mainly used as a bookshelf by many lawyers – we would come in, fold our screens down, and put our files on it. That was the way in which we did not embrace technology.
24. Also in the 2000s, we had a lot of development tools, software and “back-office technology”, such as practice management system for accounting, billing and time-keeping. These allowed for a lot more efficient back-end production. I think many of you would be familiar with these technologies by now.
25. Since the late 2000s especially in the last 5-10 years before COVID-19, we started seeing a lot more “front-office technology” developing. These tools support practitioners in executing the front-end legal tasks. These include matter management and collaboration tools, knowledge management solutions, document assembly and review software, and also, more recently, e-discovery software.
26. One example is the Legal Technology Platform (LTP) which the Ministry of Law and our technology partner, Lupl, launched in July 2022 for the Singapore legal sector. It is really trying to democratise technology so that it is made accessible and available to all firms for a very low fee, even if you are a small firm with very low headcount, and therefore lower economies of scale – but it still remains accessible.
27. The idea was to really tech-up, as it were, so that our legal industry will be familiar and equipped with technology. The LTP allows lawyers to track legal matters, manage and share legal documents and communicate with internal and external teams amongst other features.
Appetite for legaltech
28. Today, we see a varying level of adoption of these enabler, back-office and front-office technology tools globally.
29. Overall, there is healthy and growing appetite for these tools among the legal service providers and clients. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the mindset, philosophy, and even the acceptance levels of lawyers and technology.
30. In the UK, a recent survey of around 1,300 law firms by the Legal Services Board showed that 92% of law firms agree that Covid-19 has increased not just their use, but also their trust in technology.
31. In Hong Kong, a 2022 survey by Opus2 and Conventus Law, a legal-focused digital media platform, showed that 78% of the respondents adopted legaltech, since the pandemic. This includes tools like e-discovery, signature tools, DMS, PMS and so on.
32. In Singapore, and this is a pre-COVID survey in 2018, 82% of decision makers in Singapore law firms considered legaltech to be crucial for them to stay competitive. I suspect that if you were asked that question in 2018, you will say “Yes, it is crucial.” But actually, what does it really mean? Not so much until COVID really happened.
33. But we should also look at how the users in the legal industry or clients, particularly the in-house counsel, look at the same question.
34. I thought I will share two questions with you which were posed to in-house counsel.
35. First, are in-house legal teams themselves adopting legaltech? The answer, I think you can see from the survey, is a clear yes.
a. A survey by PwC on Chief Legal Officers in 2023 found that close to half of the general counsel have earmarked “legal operations” and “legal process optimisation” as a priority for broader business growth, amid shrinking budgets and of course, increasing workload, and there’s increasingly a headcount pressure downwards. All that, I think, is driving the move towards technology.
b. Further, a 2022 Gartner survey showed that by 2024, in-house legal teams will have automated 50% of their legal work related to major corporate transactions, and by 2025, increase their legaltech spend threefold.
36. These are some of the questions that were posed, of course, in general terms to in-house counsel, but you can see the direction that this is taking, both in terms of their usage, as well as the expectation of external usage of technology.
37. Second, perhaps an interesting question, do in-house legal teams expect or require their external counsel to adopt technology? The answer, again, is a resounding yes.
38. According to the UK’s Legal Service Board 2023 survey, 60% of the firms surveyed agreed that their clients expect them to use technology to deliver legal services.
39. When I was a practitioner, we used to do beauty parades, show off who you are, your associates, and so on. Before long, you may also have to beauty parade your bots at these sessions and tell the clients who your bots are, how responsive they are, can they speak to you in a nice soft tone, and so on.
40. Indeed, these findings are consistent with MinLaw’s own observations and interactions with the major US firms, particularly, those coming from New York and Chicago.
41. But what is most striking to me is the LexisNexis International Legal Generative AI Survey in 2023 – a recent survey focusing specifically on generative AI. This covered close to 8,000 respondents across the US, UK, France and Canada.
a. According to the survey, 60% of in-house legal teams expect law firms to use cutting-edge tools like generative AI tools when delivering services to them.
b. Law firms agree, with 52% affirming that their clients will expect them to do so.
c. The survey also showed that this was where the levels were today, in 2023, but both in house and general counsel, expect these numbers to grow over time.
42. So let me turn now to speak briefly about these cutting-edge technologies, using generative AI and smart contract as examples of how they automate knowledge work.
43. AI actually has been in the marketplace for some time now, if we just look at the tools that we are perhaps so used to already.
44. For example, I used Google maps on the way here, It was supposed to tell me the quickest way to come here, but I got into several traffic jams.
45. Facial recognition is increasingly very commonplace, and how Amazon suggests more things for us to buy, are all examples of AI in our daily lives being very pervasive.
46. It is a new word, more fashionable today, and maybe you term it as generative AI. It is a new feature today, but it has been here for some time.
47. But generative AI, of which ChatGPT was perhaps the first iteration, really represents a paradigm shift.
48. It took us by surprise because of how fast it matured and how it allowed direct user interactions to generate multimodal content – whether it is text, images, videos, codes, or media.
49. 14 months ago, at the last TechLaw.Fest, we were not confronted with these issues, with this kind of development, or certainly at the pace of this development.
50. In the legal sphere, Allen & Overy, has started using Harvey, a generative AI tool, which can answer legal questions, summarise information and prepare and analyse document drafts. Sounds like what a second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-year lawyer might be doing.
51. In Singapore, Intelllex, a homegrown legaltech firm, has rolled out Scott, a generative AI-based litigation research assistant.
a. Scott can answer a lawyer’s legal research queries in natural language – so remember I said, it speaks to you nicely, in natural language and not unnatural Boolean language, or Boolean search parameters, recommend case authorities with relevant annotations, and cover as many legal principles as possible before zooming into the specifics.
b. I am told that to date, Scott already has around 1,000 users globally, even though it was only launched a couple of months ago in June this year.
52. Scott and Harvey, as I said, we have got to make the name sound like your everyday associates, so they sound very approachable, friendly, and interactable.
53. Smart contracts are programs on the other side of the equation, that can automate the actions required in an agreement. Once completed, the transactions are trackable.
54. Industries like insurance and logistics have started using them. They reduce or eliminate intermediaries such as brokers, agents and notaries.
55. One collaboration in this area is that between SMU, AXA, and Codex of Stanford University.
a. These three parties examined how legal domain-specific programming language can be harnessed to build a set of smart insurance contracts for AXA’s use.
b. The aim is to address the issues which we all face, I am sure, from time to time, of slow or inaccurate payouts, that is largely due to the reliance on human third parties or central operators to sift through the contracts, look at the facts of the case, and decide whether the exclusion clauses apply, and whether the facts apply to the particular insurance claim.
c. I understand that substantive engineering work is already underway to develop this model so that claims can be processed much faster.
56. The use of this has really become very pervasive and will only grow.
57. If you just pick up today’s Straits Times, for example, there is a full page on generative AI. Two points that jumped out at me.
a. 40% of Singaporeans now use generative AI in their day-to-day work.
b. But the other point that struck me on the same page in Straits Times today, was Oracle.
58. Oracle is a very established customer solution using computers, using technology.
a. A firm that has been well-placed, well established, they have now said and committed that they will not do any more coding themselves.
b. They will just use AI generated codes moving forward.
c. They said the aim was to make it more efficient, and they went on to say that they measure their efficiency by the number of clicks it takes for you to get a solution.
d. So it moved from twelve to ten to seven clicks. But they say that with generative AI, we move from seven to zero clicks. That is going to be a game changer.
e. The fact that Oracle, well-established, long history, big customer base, has decided that it will move into a system which will use generative AI to auto generate their codes, I think tells us something about the future of generative AI adoption.
59. However, as the applications of AI and smart contracts proliferate, they also raised novel issues which the legal professionals, our academics, have to grapple with – jurisdiction, conflict of law, liability, and many will ask – will they disintermediate or replace lawyers?
60. Just as it has become pervasive, very commonplace, there are also questions on how we can have the law keep up with the use of AI and spark technology.
61. Applications of AI and smart contracts, as they proliferate, they also raise global legal issues which legal professionals, academics, regulators have to grapple with; questions of jurisdiction, conflict of law and liability.
62. When I was in school, conflicts of law was already difficult then, when we had not much technology.
a. But you imagine if today in Singapore, you use a US-based generative AI tool or smart contract provider to make a contract between two parties, one in Asia, one in Europe, for delivery in Africa.
b. So you can imagine the issues that will arise in usual jurisdictional conflicts of laws, and the types of challenges.
Impact of Advancements in Technology
63. So for the next part of my remarks, I thought I will share some thoughts on how advancements in technology will likely impact the legal industry. I say likely impact, because I know with each change, it is so quick, it will evolve so quickly and in some ways, so much more exponentially.
64. We will have to spend some time really looking at how we can look at the entire framework, not stifle innovation and development, because that is important. But at the same time, have a fair degree of regulation, so that the industry and consumers are protected.
65. That is really a difficult challenge in many jurisdictions.
66. First, the impact on developments in law. The legal profession is actually an ancient trade. We have had to deal with many changes.
67. Because it is an ancient trade, it has been around for so long, I think it is no stranger to change. Change really is nothing.
68. Just take for example, a very simple basic, broad principle, Donoghue v Stevenson decided in 1932, less than a hundred years ago.
69. There was no principle that said that if you see a “snail in a bottle”, there will be foreseeable harm, they can make a claim.
70. So what were people doing a few hundred years prior to that?
71. Until that came along that settled the position, even then it continues to move.
72. In 2007, Singapore Court of Appeal had our own enunciation of what it meant and what the principles of this area of law called the tort of negligence and duty of care in Spandeck, 75 years or so, after Donoghue v Stevenson.
73. So it continues to evolve with change. With each change, there is evolution and the law takes it in its stride.
74. Through the practice of common law over time, eventually we come to grip with – I do not know if we have the same amount of time, dealing with AI and technology – but that in principle is how we in the legal industry accept and contend with change in the environment, and how we reflect it.
75. Take generative AI as one example. It took the world by storm not so long ago, we have heard concerns about the reliability and the accuracy of the output that it generates. Judge Aedit himself has spoken publicly about this as well.
76. So the question is, to what extent should a person relying on such an output be responsible for checking its accuracy? You rely on it, you use it, but who is ultimately responsible for Scott’s or Harvey’s mistakes, if any? How should “hallucinations” by GenAI models be addressed when you go completely out of whack?
77. Soon enough, we also heard concerns about the intellectual property rights over the data on which the GenAI model is trained, and over training the output generated.
78. For example in March this year, the US Copyright Office released a statement that if a work’s traditional elements of authorship were produced by a machine, the work lacks human authorship, and that Office will not recognise it.
79. That is one approach – not saying it will be our approach, but that is one approach to take when it comes to generative AI producing intellectual property, not human authorship – so far recognisable, and therefore not copyrighted.
80. This position was later affirmed by a federal district court in the US and explained that human authorship – and I quote – is a “bedrock requirement of copyright”.
81. That is today’s pronouncement in an established field of law – but applying old legal principles to evolving changes in technology today.
82. But I would say, this discourse is far from over – that is far from the final word on this topic. Even in the US, let alone in other jurisdictions, and the law will continue to be scrutinised, tested and refined as more factual scenarios arise, as more different iterations of the generative AI and of Scott and Harvey arise, there will be evolution.
83. But by looking at these two examples, we can draw some lessons on how developments in law could take place in the face of legal technology changes.
84. For example, the discussions on human authorship in AI-generated work began well before 2022.
85. In 2018, the US Copyright Office had already received an application for visual work that was described as “autonomously created by a computer algorithm running on a machine”. Not sure what it means, but it is a very high-level AI.
86. A couple of days ago, over the weekend, you saw what Dick Lee said in the papers.
87. He said AI-generated music is not music. He makes a strong case – even though he was one of the early adopters of technology. He spoke about this, he was pretty advanced in the use of technology in his music. But he saw the distinction between using technology to help the human authorship and ownership of music, as opposed to devolving it entirely to an AI to write the music itself.
88. We will constantly see these, not just legal struggles, but also artistic struggles, over how we construe and how we look at the work product of AI.
89. I think these illustrations show how a breakthrough in technology could also quickly impact developments in the law.
90. My view is that this trajectory may be similar for other technologies, such as blockchain technologies and also quantum computing.
91. Coming back to the broad theme of today’s event, how should we adapt and prepare ourselves for what might come next? I think we know the landscape, or rather we know it is evolving quickly, what do we do?
92. One point I will touch on very briefly is the impact that technology will have on our human capital.
93. It is a constant question that I get asked when I engage with young lawyers – Will there come a day when lawyers, especially young lawyers, will no longer be needed?
94. Well, if we do not have young lawyers, how will we have old lawyers? So I say young lawyers will always be needed because we still need old lawyers.
95. But more seriously, I think the question that we are really grappling with, is that with this kind of breakthrough in technology, we wonder whether the legal profession, in the way we know it, will be phased out or changed dramatically? Whether lawyers, at least for the certain functions of lawyers, will be phased out?
96. I think the reality is that technology is both a threat, and I can see where these lawyers are coming from, but also a tool that we can use and harness.
97. As individual lawyers, we must invest in our own capabilities and constantly equip ourselves with new skills.
98. On this note, I echo the sentiments shared by our Chief Justice when he addressed new entrants to the Singapore Bar last month – he said that you have to prepare for lawyering in the age of AI, and we must therefore commit to lifelong learning.
99. Well quite simply, because the AI that you know last year will not be the AI you know this year, just like the law has also evolved.
100. I believe that this must be the underlying mindset and the headspace that we have, as we approach not just legal work but all work in this new age. Because we will be constantly challenged with developments and technologies, not just within the legal space.
101. In some ways, this might require us, as lawyers, as we look at trainings, as we look at preparing our young lawyers for entry into the Bar. It might require more than just a law degree. You may have to round off your experience with other facets depending on your practice areas.
102. So again, to pick up on the IP theme that I started with, it might be common to see lawyers obtain data privacy certifications, such as those by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).
103. In Singapore, we could also consider obtaining a practitioner certificate in Personal Data Protection developed by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which could equip us with practical knowledge to advise clients on data protection practices and services.
104. Those looking for a career change in the legal industry may also need to be on the lookout for emerging career paths.
105. I think there are new opportunities, just as perhaps you shut the door in some areas, but it also opens up fresh ones.
a. For example, we have increasingly heard of a job role called the Legal Engineer or Legal Technologist.
b. If you pick up any Classifieds today, you will see a couple of advertisements for this role. It envisages functions such as developing and implementing systems to navigate legal processes and law firm operations.
c. This is not the skills set that a law degree coming out of any law school will naturally equip you with.
106. At a broader level, we also need stakeholders in the legal ecosystem to adapt to evolving needs.
107. I have observed leading universities increasingly offer joint programmes for law and computer science. Globally, we have seen universities such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT. And in Singapore, we have the SMU Centre for Computation Law and NUS Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and the Law, or TRAIL for short.
108. This is a trend that will continue, at this same pace. It represents a growing recognition that our knowledge of the law needs to be paired with functional competencies to adapt effectively to changes in technology.
109. As an industry, we also support capability-building by creating key platforms to facilitate connections and discuss key issues that impact different parts of the ecosystem.
110. We just concluded the Singapore Convention Week earlier this month, where experts from around the world came together on a common platform with a lot of knowledge and leadership, sharing information on the newest iterations and developments in dispute resolution, and how it could adapt to the digital economy.
111. TechLaw.Fest is also one such event that draws together law firms and legal tech players, as well as academics and researchers, and even those who exist outside of the legal industry, to come together to brainstorm, network, socialise, think of ideas, collaborate.
112. I think this is one key purpose of the TechLaw Fest – it is to bring people together. When you look at the spaces outside, there are lots of common spaces for you to sit down, brainstorm and come up with collaborations.
113. These are all crucial opportunities and critical networking platforms for professionals in the legal sector to grow our knowledge and competencies in the intersection of law and technology.
Social interaction and Online Harms
114. Finally, before I close off, I would like to say a few things about technology’s impact on social interaction, one of the points that Judge touched on as well.
115. It is not just lawyers who have embraced the use of technology. Technology, especially internet technology, has become as I said earlier an integral part of our daily life in Singapore.
116. To give you some statistics, which when I went to check and research, I found quite staggering. As of last year:
a. There were almost 13 million broadband internet subscriptions in Singapore, that’s more than double our population.
b. There were more than 9.5 million subscriptions to 3G, 4G or 5G mobile services, which means that taken together, this is an internet or mobile penetration rate of almost 170% of our population.
c. As a consequence, 99% of our households have access to the internet.
d. The exception, the 1%, when we took a deeper dive, is in households comprising only seniors above the age of 60. Even for these households, 93% have access to the internet.
e. So we are very much internet-savvy or at least internet-connected as a country.
117. Singaporeans of all ages and backgrounds use the internet to seek knowledge and express themselves. We know all this when we look at social media. The internet has become indispensable for almost every sphere of life. It is not just work, play or social, but also professional and private.
118. Yet at the same time, the internet also presents us new ways in which people might cause harm to one another.
119. Study after study have shown just how prevalent online harms have become, not just in Singapore, but also around the world, especially affecting and afflicting for the young.
120. A 2021 sentiment poll by the National Youth Council in Singapore showed that 67% of younger persons, aged 16 to 34, have experienced an online harm. These include being insulted online or being subjected to repeated unwanted and abusive contact online.
121. A 2022 survey by Sunlight Alliance for Action in Singapore showed that 47% of respondents had personally experienced one or more types of online harms. Younger persons aged 15 to 35 formed the majority of these victims.
122. So in our view, there is a digital safety gap in Singapore that needs to be addressed. And I think it needs to be addressed urgently.
123. Singapore at this point in time is still, at least based on rankings, the safest country in the world in Gallup’s Law and Order Index of 2022.
124. But we are also placed among the top five countries where people are most likely to experience online risks, in Microsoft’s Global Safety Survey in 2023.
125. So, when you look at Gallup, safest country in the world but when you look at Microsoft Global Safety study on online risks, we are one of the top five countries where you are likely to experience online harm or online risk. So there is a gap that we need to address.
126. While the 2022 survey by Sunlight Alliance for Action showed that 92% of respondents felt safe walking alone at night in Singapore, only 66% of respondents reported feeling safe from online harm. Again, another gap that we have to address.
127. We have to recognise, as a government, as a country, that what we have grown quite accustomed to and used to, we can have our women, children walk home late at night in the streets safe, unlike many other countries but we must also recognise that harm to society can come in other forms.
128. Given our mobile capability in Singapore, I think we know where the likely trajectory is going to take us to, if we don’t do something about this.
129. The features of online harms have to be properly understood, as these can cause damage of different nature and degree from offline harm.
130. For instance, technology enables the viral, non-consensual dissemination of intimate images, causing harm at a speed and scale unprecedented in the physical world.
131. An egregious local example was the SG Nasi Lemak Telegram chat group, I think you might have read about this in the press, which had more than 44,000 members sharing obscene videos and pictures of women completely without their consent.
132. It is completely unacceptable but these are the things that have traction and have leaks on the internet. We have to do something about this.
133. Technology also enables new forms of harm that would not be possible offline. Deep fake technology that has been abused to create non-consensual pornography of women, with one study estimating that 90% of deepfakes circulating online involves such material.
134. Similarly, internet technology makes impersonation a simple matter of cut-and-paste. It becomes very real and very believable as well.
135. One perpetrator impersonated a former colleague for two years, simply by creating a social media account using her name and photographs. He used the online account to send sexual messages to the victim’s name, causing her much distress and a lot of sleepless nights, and you can imagine that it sounds somewhat simple, maybe even trivial, but if you are the victim of this, subject to this torment, it is not a laughing matter.
136. The mechanisms which encourage and enable online harms also have to be properly understood, as these can differ from offline harms.
137. For instance, internet technology allows perpetrators to act under a cloak of anonymity, and that is one of the serious problems.
a. When you are under a cloak of anonymity, you behave in a way which you will not do when you’re offline and in person.
b. This emboldens them to bully, to denigrate and to spread hate. They feel invisible and sometimes as a result of that, invincible.
c. Social norms of civility and respect that would be observed offline, are not fully replicated in the online space.
138. Furthermore, offline harms typically just involve a perpetrator and a victim, online harms often involve an important third party, which is the internet platform, and the proliferation of information on that internet platform.
139. In the context of online harms, these platforms enable perpetrators, a new way, a very efficient way I might add, to reach their victims.
140. How these platforms have been designed, and the algorithms which determine what their users see, have been found to contribute to the prevalence of online harms. You all know that these platforms do use AI, very advanced AI and algorithms to chart and plan what you expect to see on your social media feeds.
141. The use of online harms is currently a very weighty issue, one that is being debated, talked about on many global platforms with a lot of traction.
142. Countries around the world have acted to address online harms, and this includes Australia, Germany, the UK and the EU, in various degrees and at varying stages of maturity.
143. This indicates a recognition amongst governments around the world that online harms are indeed a pressing problem, and they must be addressed.
144. Singapore will be no exception. We continue to review our laws and keep pace with the phenomenon of online harms. We amended the Protection from Harassment Act in 2019, couple of years ago, as well as the Broadcasting Act last year. We passed the Online Criminal Harms Act this year.
145. But understanding and addressing online harms is really a continuous process, just as we continue to deal with an evolving technology, it is also something that we must keep pace with very tightly.
146. As technology constantly progresses, we must be vigilant and in fact, like the theme of this year’s TechLaw Fest says, we must be confident of knowing this is what’s next, so that we can stay one step ahead of the proliferators of these harms.
147. To that end, and here I make a small plug, we are organising a symposium next week, on online harms with SMU (25 to 27 September).
148. This Symposium will bring together the world’s leading experts in this field, to come and share their knowledge, talk to us on an open platform, identity the gaps in existing levers that we need to address online harms, and to really kickstart and catalyse the discussion on what the solutions of dealing with these harms might look like.
149. I would encourage everyone in this audience to maybe put a placeholder in your calendar to see if you are able to attend this.
150. It has very encouraging take-up. I think this also reflects the interest that the public has in this area.
151. I am very sure that this symposium will give us a lot of credible information, and a lot of suggestions, ideas as to how to grapple with, deal with, and move quickly against online harms.
152. So let me summarise and pull the different facts together in just one minute.
153. As we embark on this year’s TechLaw.Fest and look at the topics for discussions here, one thing that will strike us is how novel it is, even though we have had one online session last year, 14 months ago, how burgeoning, how developing, how quickly evolving these areas are. But we will also know that come next year, this all may well be out of date, or at least, old-fashioned.
154. We can all look forward to growing debates and also sharing thought leadership and literature on how we should and need to equip ourselves to respond to these changes.
155. Some, on one end of the spectrum might call for more stringent regulation, tighter, as compared to previously.
156. When there were cryptocurrency crashes, I am sure we will be discussing this, and Bitcoin crashes – can the government do more to protect the consumer?
157. You can look at that but there is always a balance because when you do more of that, you regulate more, you keep a tighter control, innovation will be stifled. Capital may not flow to come in to develop, to innovate. So we got to strike a right balance on how we do this.
158. Some, on the other hand, prefer a more facilitative approach. Can we do more, can we have more sandboxes? Can we do a bit more experimentation to learn a bit more about the industry before we decide in what direction we want to go.
159. I think the answer lies somewhere in between, that we have got to strike a balance as a government, as a regulator to protect the industry, the consumers but at the same time, very facilitative of innovation developments and attracting investments into Singapore that help us to move the needle on the evolving technology space.
160. I am sure all of these will be topics that you will be discussing and canvassing, not just in formal sessions like this, but I encourage you to also exchange ideas in the informal sessions, over lunch, over coffee, share ideas and perhaps most importantly, build collaboration and networks because ultimately, you cannot be doing this alone and that’s why this is not a Tech Fest or a Law Fest but a TechLaw.Fest.
161. Thank you very much.
Last updated on 21 September 2023