Smart nation push: Public to get access to more govt data

SINGAPORE - More government data will be made available to the public to develop innovative solutions as Singapore strides forward on its smart nation journey.

This must however be balanced against the need to protect the privacy of people as well as the national security of the country.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister in charge of Singapore's smart nation programme, said: "National security, privacy and identity are the amber zones. For everything else, the default mode (for data) should be to share."

Speaking to the media last night at the Singapore Maker Festival - a gathering of tech tinkers and enthusiasts - Dr Balakrishnan lauded existing efforts to share government data publicly but added that even more can be done.

Instead of just sharing the raw data for developers to create apps, public agencies can consider sharing the building blocks of government apps already developed - or application programming interface (API) in geekspeak - so innovators can quickly build improved versions without having to recode everything from scratch.

Dr Balakrishnan also said that seniors, young people and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the first three groups that the Government will prioritise in its smart nation push.

With seniors, the aim is to ensure that they are not left behind in the digital divide. Remote monitoring of the elderly at home empowers them to lead independent lives while letting their families have peace of mind. Plans are also under way to make technology more accessible to them, including increasing the number of citizen connect centres where they can reset their SingPass accounts and get help on e-citizen services.

For young people, it is important to help them acquire the necessary tools such as having programming skills and computational thinking which helps develop good problem-solving abilities.

"This has to become almost standard literacy in the digital age," Dr Balakrishnan added.

The smart nation initiative will benefit SMEs in two areas. First, said Dr Balakrishnan, it will be cheaper to produce prototypes when facilities such as those for 3D printing become widely available. "This will lower barriers to entry," he added. Second, new technology and services will provide for new streams of revenue.

The minister said becoming a smart nation is not about adopting technology solutions for the sake of technology but using it to meet the needs of people and improve lives. "This is about human beings, not about machines. It is about what people need, not what technology can offer," he added.

He also addressed public concerns about privacy and the potential high costs of adopting new technologies. Changes to the law may be necessary to address privacy issues more comprehensively such as those to do with security, identity theft and data abuse, he said.

Dr Balakrishnan added that programmes will be put in place to ensure no one is left out because of costs. Similar to the need to extend public Wi-Fi to even more places such as nooks and crannies in tunnels, he said: "We must close up the final dark shadows so that there are no digital shadows in our society."

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