Data privacy is an issue for APEC

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on December 6, 2011

Last week, the Philippines was host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Regional Data Privacy Seminar. The objective of the seminar was to share insights on privacy and data protection regulation, and its impact upon businesses, with special focus on data controllers—the wide range of organizations that collect and manage personal information for clients, users, and other organizations.

The seminar was organized by the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, sponsored by Google, and supported by the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) and the World Trustmark Alliance. The timing couldn’t be better. BPAP represents the interests of the fast-growing IT-BPO industry and much of the work its members do involves confidential information that should be protected through regulatory legislation.

Authorities need legislation creating laws to ensure the sanctity of data privacy, and to punish those who seek to undermine that goal. The Philippines was the first country in Asia to pass an e-commerce law, which it did more than a decade ago. Unfortunately, that admirable initiative did not generate the momentum to follow through with data privacy legislation protecting the personal information of people engaged in e-commerce and other online activity.

The legislative mill finally began moving in March this year after the House of Representatives passed a data privacy bill. Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III certified data privacy legislation as a priority in August, and Senator Edgardo J. Angara introduced the Senate version of a bill in August. The Senate is currently deliberating on its bill. After the bill passes—hopefully sometime early next year but more likely much later—the House and Senate will reconcile their versions.

Then the consolidated bill will then finally go to Mr. Aquino, who will sign it into law. Business groups have lamented the slow progress of the privacy bill. According to BPAP, the IT-BPO industry employs more than 600,000 Filipinos, and accounts for more than five percent of gross domestic product, or GDP. The IT-BPO Road Map 2011-2016 forecasts up to 1.3 million Filipinos directly employed in the industry and a contribution of nine percent to GDP by 2016.

Given the importance of the industry to the Philippine economy and its efficiency in creating high-paying jobs, it’s difficult to understand why legislators have not had a greater sense of urgency. Perhaps the rapid growth of the industry has made them complacent. The best way to derail the industry is to take it for granted. Like any other industry, the Philippine IT-BPO industry must continually adjust to changing client demands to remain relevant and competitive.

The seminar underscored the urgency of data privacy legislation. It  brought together more than 80 private-sector stakeholders and policymakers from APEC member-economies, including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States and Vietnam.

According to DTI Director Lourdes Yaptinchay, “the seminar provided a valuable opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions and share successful practices and experiences in data privacy issues, policy development and enforcement, accountability and privacy protection, and regulatory models.” She explained that, the seminar “was designed to provide opportunities for networking to enhance experience sharing and partnership building,” and ultimately to develop a consensus for data privacy regulation for the region.

Data privacy experts from around the world led the discussion. Speakers included legislators, privacy and policy analysts and data privacy experts, among them Robin Layton, director of the Office of Technology and e-Commerce of the US Department of Commerce and John Tomaszewski, general counsel and corporate secretary of TRUSTe.

“If we are to make any headway in our transition to a digital economy,” Mr. Angara recently said in a statement, the data privacy bill and other measures proactively protecting the digital economy “have to be enacted as soon as possible.” The data privacy bill in particular will fill a glaring gap in the Philippines’ digital policy framework. The Philippines has emerged as a world leader in IT-BPO, and it’s time to give the industry the protection it deserves.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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