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Singapore High Court interprets ‘loss or damage’ in private actions for data protection contraventions

The Singapore High Court recently considered in Bellingham, Alex v. Reed, Michael [2021] SGHC 125 the loss or damage needed for a private action to be brought against an organisation for a breach of the PDPA. The court held that a mere loss of control over personal data, or distress over such loss of control, was insufficient.

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The court applied a purposive interpretation of ‘loss or damage’ under section 32(1) of the PDPA, and referred to the heads of loss or damage applicable to torts under common law (e.g., pecuniary loss, damage to property, and personal injury, including psychiatric illness). The court considered that this was consistent with and would further the specific purpose of section 32(1) of the PDPA as a statutory tort. The court also noted that the position in Singapore differs from the positions in Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the EU and the UK, where an individual’s right to privacy is primarily based on constitutional, civil or human rights. There is no general right to privacy under Singapore law. The PDPA takes a more holistic approach in recognising both the right of individuals to protect their personal data and the need of organisations to process it in accordance with the requirements in the PDPA.


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