AFTINET submission on Singapore Digital Agreement will assess protection of privacy and other public interest regulation

August 25, 2020: The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement was signed on August 6 and the text was tabled in Parliament on August 24, which triggers an inquiry by the joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT).

The JSCOT inquiry is calling for submissions by September 18. The text and National Impact Analysis by DFAT are here.

Our previous submission on this agreement and the WTO e-commerce negotiations expressed concerns that the ACCC report on digital platforms and a Human Rights Commission report recommended more, not less, regulation of big tech companies, and that deregulatory trade rules could frustrate future regulation needed to protect privacy, prevent discrimination and curb their market domination.

Preliminary analysis of the Singapore text indicates that the agreement does “break new ground” as the government claims, and is more deregulatory than previous agreements. It enables cross-border data flows and prevents access to source code and algorithms. Neither party can require local storage of data or access to source code and algorithms “as a condition of conducting business within its borders.”

The Singapore text tries to deal with some of these issues through exemptions for personal data and credit information (Article 7) , and claiming that Australia’s privacy and other consumer protection laws will still apply if data is transferred across borders, and that regulatory authorities will still have access to data stored elsewhere (Articles 17, 23 24, 25, 28).

AFTINET is preparing a submission to the JSCOT inquiry that will assess these claims.