Singapore-UK agreement makes pitch for source code protection

Singapore-UK agreement makes pitch for source code protection

The UK is Singapore’s largest services trading partner in Europe.

Credit: Dreamstime

The protection of course code is one of the core focus areas in a new digital economy agreement between Singapore and the United Kingdom (UK).

It was revealed late last week that Singapore and the UK had substantially concluded negotiations on the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (UKSDEA).

Singapore and the UK enjoy strong economic ties, according to the Singapore government, with the UK being Singapore’s largest services trading partner in Europe.

In 2019, bilateral services trade between the two countries exceeded S$22 billion, of which around 70 per cent could have been digitally delivered, it is claimed.  

“Singapore’s digital economy agreements build on and enhance the economic connectivity established through our extensive network of free trade agreements,” said Singapore’s Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, S. Iswaran. “I am pleased that Singapore and the UK, as like-minded and digitally progressive partners, have substantially concluded an ambitious and cutting-edge digital economy agreement.  

“Reflecting our shared ambition, the UKSDEA builds upon and, in some areas, goes further than our existing agreements. It will set a global benchmark for high-standard digital trade rules, and benefit people and businesses in our two countries.  

“The UKSDEA will enable businesses, especially our SMEs [small- to medium-sized enterprises], to leverage a greater range of opportunities in our combined and growing digital markets,” he added.

The deal is set to be Singapore’s third digital economy agreement (DEA), following the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement with Chile and New Zealand, and the Singapore-Australia DEA.  

The new agreement includes binding disciplines on cornerstones of the digital economy, such as data, as well as cooperative elements in a wide range of emerging and innovative areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), fintech and regtech, digital identities and legal technology.

The UKSDEA comes with three core areas of focus. These include a push for advancing end-to-end digital trade. Specifically, the agreement seeks to facilitate seamless end-to-end digital trade through common and interoperable digital systems for e-payments, e-invoicing and other key electronic documents such as bills of lading.  

It is hoped this will enable faster and cheaper transactions, and reduce costs for businesses.

Second, the agreement works to enable trusted data flows, ensuring high standards in data protection and prohibiting data localisation requirements, including in financial services.

The third core thrust of the deal revolves around the facilitation of a trusted and secure digital environment, and the promotion of participation in the digital economy.  

For companies, this includes the protection of source codes, including embedded algorithms, and private keys in cryptography. For consumers, this element includes guarding against fraudulent, misleading or deceptive conduct online.  

The protection of source code is intended to ensure software developers can trust the market within which they operate, encourage innovation and ensure that source code used by companies is protected, with neither country requiring the transfer of, or access to, source code as a condition of market access. This includes algorithms expressed in the source code.

Cryptography is captured in the agreement to help ensure that companies using the technology can, as with the source code measure, trust the market within which they operate, encourage innovation and ensure that private keys and related technologies used are protected.

As with the source code provision, the agreement stipulates that neither country will require the transfer of, or access to, cryptography as a condition of market access. This would cover both products as well as services that use cryptography.

The UKSDEA will also promote cross-cutting participation in the digital economy by people and businesses, especially SMEs.

Moreover, the deal focuses on cross-border data flows (including for financial services), noting that data flow is increasingly important to the growth of the global economy, as it supports electronic commerce and other digitally-enabled activities such as data analytics and AI.  

As such, businesses operating in Singapore and the UK will be allowed to transfer information, including those which are generated or held by financial institutions, more seamlessly across borders with the assurance that they meet the requisite regulations.

At the same time, Singapore and the UK will put in place disciplines against requirements for data localisation and allow businesses to choose where their data is stored, with data localisation requirements deemed an unnecessary barrier to trade, which may drive up the cost of storing data for all businesses.  

Under the UKSDEA, Singapore and the UK are also pursuing cooperative projects designed to provide a dynamic framework for bilateral cooperation on forward-looking and emerging issues.  

To date, both countries have signed three memoranda of understanding (MoUs) in digital trade facilitation, digital identities and cyber security. Such partnerships make digital transactions easier, safer and cheaper, enabling businesses in both countries to seize opportunities in the growing digital economy, the government claimed.

On top of its string of digital economy agreements, Singapore has been ramping up its cooperation in the tech space with other countries.

In August, Singapore and the United States moved to jointly expand their cooperation on cyber security after signing a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at strengthening information sharing and fostering cyber security exchanges between the two countries.

The agreement came as US Vice-President Kamala Harris visited Singapore as part of a tour to the broader Southeast Asia region.

“Singapore and the United States share deep mutual interests in enhancing cyber security cooperation, particularly as cyber security has become a key enabler for both countries to leverage the benefits of digitalisation to grow our economies and improve the lives of our people,” said David Koh, chief executive of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), at the time. 

“This expanded MoU is a testament of our shared vision to work together towards a stable, secure, resilient and interoperable cyberspace. We look forward to continuing our work with the US to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation between our countries,” he added.

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