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International calls to have plus sign prefix to combat scam calls: Janil Puthucheary

SINGAPORE: All incoming international calls will be prefixed with a plus sign (+) beginning April as part of efforts to protect members of the public from scam calls, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 3). 

From Apr 15, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will require all telecommunication companies (telcos) in Singapore to introduce this measure to help combat such spoof calls from overseas.  

Domestic calls will not display such a prefix. 

According to the Singapore Police Force’s annual crime brief for 2019, more than S$21 million was reported lost to impersonation scams.

READ: S$6 million lost to phone scammers impersonating technical support staff and police

READ: Phone scammers exposed - A web of deceit across the region

International scammers are known to impersonate local phone numbers, Dr Janil noted.  

“All overseas calls coming in will be identified and identifiable by having the plus prefix,” he said during the Communications and Information Ministry’s (MCI) Committee of Supply debate. 

“We hope this will help consumers better identify international spoof calls and reject them,” he added, noting IMDA already works with telcos to block commonly spoofed numbers such as 999 or 995. 

“The Government will continue to develop additional measures to combat scams so that our citizens can be better protected,” said Dr Janil.  

READ: New Inter-Ministry Committee to be set up to combat scams

“MCI will work closely with other agencies in the newly formed Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams announced by MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) to strengthen our collective efforts to tackle this problem,” he added. 

Dr Janil said the Government will work with partners to support fact-checking initiatives and strengthen public education to build an “informed and discerning citizenry”, in line with recommendations made by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods in 2018.

MCI has also welcomed the National University of Singapore’s decision to establish a Centre for Trusted Internet and Community, said Dr Janil. 

The centre, which will be operational from Apr 1, will research how societies discern online harms and build responsible public discourse. 

“This will be an important academic complement to existing efforts of nurturing healthy, well-informed and inclusive online activity.”

READ: Singapore plans data portability requirement as part of PDPA update

Separately, Dr Janil also said the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) will be amended later this year. 

The PDPA is being reviewed as part of efforts to “continually support data-driven innovation as well as strengthen organisations’ accountability and consumer trust”, he said. 

“The key proposed amendments include obligating organisations to notify affected individuals and the PDPC (Personal Data Protection Commission) of significant data breaches, strengthening PDPC’s enforcement powers and instilling accountability practices like risk assessments for organisations,” he added. 

READ: Privacy, data security concerns as facial recognition becomes more common

A new Data Portability Obligation in the PDPA will also be introduced to allow people to have their data transmitted between organisations in a commonly used format, so as to address interoperability issues.

Dr Janil also pointed to other efforts to protect personal data. 

For example, to promote the responsible use of facial recognition technology, the PDPC and the Government Data Office will publish guides on the responsible use of biometric technology later this year. 

“The guides will include best practices and policies on the end-to-end management of data collected via such technology,” he said. 

“Internationally, Singapore is contributing to common data protection principles,” Dr Janil added, pointing to the country’s participation in the ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance as well as the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules and Privacy Recognition for Processors Systems. 

“This network of partnerships that Singapore has, and our digital economy agreements, will also facilitate cross-border interoperability and collaboration,” he said.

Source: CNA/az(hs)


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