Singapore: Personal Data Protection Act - Need To Document Data Protection Policies And Practices

Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA) came into force in 2012. By now, most organisations are familiar with the obligation to obtain the requisite consent when collecting, using and disclosing personal data, the obligation to check the Do Not Call Registry, and the need to implement privacy statements which are typically placed on websites.

However, there is one area where many organisations are still lacking. This is the obligation to develop and implement data protection policies and practices. Recent decisions by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) highlight the necessity for organisations to ensure that they have developed and implemented suitable policies and practices for the protection of personal data.

Section 12 of the PDPA provides that an organisation has the obligation to:

  1. develop and implement policies and practices that are necessary for the organisation to meet the obligations of the organisation under this Act;
  2. develop a process to receive and respond to complaints that may arise with respect to the application of this Act;
  3. communicate to its staff information about the organisation’s policies and practices referred to in paragraph (a); and
  4. make information available on request about —
    1. the policies and practices referred to in paragraph (a); and
    2. the complaint process referred to in paragraph (b).

Most organisations would have developed and implemented external / customer facing documentation such as privacy policies to comply with their consent and notification obligations under the PDPA. Often, what may be overlooked is another equally important area – internal-facing policies and practices intended for an organisation’s employees so as to guide them in handling personal data.

Recent decisions by the PDPC

This issue of internal-facing policies and practices were considered in the recent cases of M Star Movers [2017] SGPDPC 15 and Jiwon Hair Salon [2018] SGPDPC 2. These cases involved respectively, a moving company and several hair salons. They had been under investigation PDPC for potential breaches of the PDPA, and in the course of the investigations were asked to demonstrate and present their internal data protection policies and practices to the PDPC.

The organisations in both cases were not large corporations, nor even businesses handling large amounts of personal data. They were, by most measures, modest in size and operation. Understandably, developing and implementing data protection policies for their employees was not a priority. Nevertheless, the PDPC’s expectation was for them to have developed and implemented data protection policies and practices appropriate to their business. As these organisations did not develop and implement such policies and practices, they were eventually found by the PDPC to be in breach of their obligations under Section 12.

In each of these cases, the PDPC stated the following in their grounds of decision:

“At the very basic level, an appropriate data protection policy should be drafted to ensure that it gives a clear understanding within the organisation of its obligations under the PDPA and sets general standards on the handling of personal data which staff are expected to adhere to. To meet these aims, the framers, in developing such policies, have to address their minds to the types of data the organisation handles which may constitute personal data; the manner in, and the purposes for, which it collects, uses and discloses personal data; the parties to, and the circumstances in, which it discloses personal data; and the data protection standards the organisation needs to adopt to meet its obligations under the PDPA.

An overarching data protection policy will ensure a consistent minimum data protection standard across an organisation’s business practices, procedures and activities (e.g. communications through social media).” [emphasis ours]

The message by the PDPC is clear – all organisations, large or small, must have internal personal data protection policies and practices, and must be able to demonstrate and show compliance with these policies and practices when called upon to do so.

While an organisation may have data protection policies and practices in place, it is equally pertinent that these policies are clearly documented. If an organisation’s policies and practices are not clearly documented and is simply a corporate practice / tradition e.g. through custom or verbal instructions, it would inevitably be difficult to demonstrate compliance when called upon to do so by the PDPC.

Insofar as what constitutes appropriate data protection policies and practices, this would vary from organisation to organisation, depending on its business and operations. For example, in the M Star Movers case, the PDPC went so far as to state its expectations that organisations with a social media presence / platform used to communicate with customers ought to have specific policies to address the risk of disclosing personal data through these platforms:

Organisations with a social media or other online presence (e.g. social media forums), particularly those that rely on such platforms to communicate with its customers, ought to develop appropriate policies, practices and procedures that amply address the risks of disclosing personal data on social media or other online sites. Together, these policies, practices and procedures should seek to (i) ensure that staff who communicate through an organisation’s social media account or similar platforms are aware of the organisation’s data protection obligations and the importance and need to protect personal data; (ii) crystallise the organisation’s position on the circumstances in which it may be appropriate to disclose personal data on these platforms for example, disclosures for which individuals have already consented to; (iii) ensure that the organisation maintains an appropriate level of control on the content posted on these platforms (e.g. by limiting the number of staff who are allowed to post and placing conditions on these staff such as requiring them to undergo relevant data protection training); (iv) crystallise the organisation’s retention rules in respect of posts on such platforms; and (v) provide an avenue to escalate issues or queries to the appropriate function or role within the organisation.” [emphasis ours]

What are the chances of an investigation by the PDPC?

Between 2015 and 2017, the PDPC received over 8,600 complaints, with over 2,200 complaints in 2017 alone. Consequently, it is not a question of whether, but when, an organisation would be the subject of a complaint that prompts investigations by the PDPC. In the course of such investigations, the organisation would be expected to demonstrate and show all its data protection policies and practices to the PDPC to demonstrate compliance, and avoid sanctions.

Immediate action steps needed

Reactive organisations that wait until such investigations to start developing and implement their data protection policies and practices would be placed in an unfavourable position when defending themselves against enforcement action by the PDPC. At the very least, organisations should develop policies and practices relating to:

  • what type of personal data it may collect, and what should not be collected
  • storage and security of personal data
  • how long data would be kept for
  • how data would be deleted or destroyed

The policies cannot be templated documents. They must relate to the business carried out by the organisation, and must be commensurate with the nature and amount of personal data it handles as well as the risks to individuals. These policies will shape the behaviour of staff within the organisation, avoid breaches of the PDPA, and act as a mitigating factor in the event of an inadvertent breach.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
30 Jan 2019, Other, Chicago, United States

Please join us on January 30, 2019, for the Fifth Annual Courageous Counsel Leadership Institute. This year's theme is "Risk and reward: Creating a culture that promotes innovation, change and growth.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions