Asean ministers to discuss AI threats, scams over two-day meeting in S’pore

The Asean nations, home to some 650 million people, have taken steps to work together to strengthen their digital economies.

Osmond Chia

Osmond Chia

The Straits Times


February 2, 2024

SINGAPORE – Members of Asean must work closely together to fend off and respond to cyber threats, which are on the rise due to scams and fake news fuelled by artificial intelligence (AI), said Singapore’s Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo on Feb 1.

She was speaking at the fourth Asean Digital Ministers’ Meeting, a conference for officials in the region overseeing technology, taking place on Feb 1 and 2. The ministers are discussing matters of AI governance and ways to combat scams regionally, in addition to signing agreements to boost digital innovation and business opportunities.

The annual meeting, which was formerly known as the Asean Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers Meeting, is being held here for the first time in 11 years at the Shangri-La Hotel.

In her opening address, Mrs Teo, who is also Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, said the partnership among nations is more relevant now than ever before.

“There is no doubt that (the meeting’s) relevance has grown over the years,” she said.

“As much as we welcome the opportunities of each technological advancement, we also recognise the risks they bring. The current wave of digital technologies sweeping across the world has the potential to sow distrust and deepen fault lines in society,” she added.

“All governments will be challenged to ensure that digital developments are built upon a strong foundation of trust.”

Mrs Teo highlighted deepfakes generated by AI as a pressing concern that can break trust in society. Singapore was recently hit with a series of deepfake videos that used the likeness of political figures like Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who appeared to promote scams.

The Asean nations, home to some 650 million people, have taken steps to work together to strengthen their digital economies, including being the first regional group to fully adopt the United Nations’ standards in 2023 for how states should behave in cyberspace, said Mrs Teo.

The UN framework has 11 non-binding rules that describe what states should and should not be doing in cyberspace, including cooperating to stop crime and terrorism, and not damaging critical infrastructure.

Asean has also agreed on a framework for sharing data across borders.

At the meeting, the ministers will discuss how AI can be used to benefit the public and ways to fight scams, which are typically run across borders, said the Ministry of Communications and Information in a statement.

Further details of the discussions will be announced on Feb 2, when a new guide for contracts between the European Union and Asean organisations is expected to be made public. The guide aims to help businesses that operate in both the EU and Asean manage the exchange of data and contractual negotiations, said Mrs Teo.

The EU is the second-largest investor in Asean, having poured US$26.5 billion (S$35.5 billion) into the region in 2021, said Mrs Teo.

More than 14,000 European businesses have set up regional centres and headquarters in Singapore alone, she added.

Asean and China will also sign a memorandum of understanding to promote cross-border digital connectivity and cooperation in emerging tech and cyber security.

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