Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Home Team Science and Technology Agency Bill (Bill No. 15/2019)
Sir, I stand in support of the Home Team Science and Technology Agency Bill. The nature of modern threats to national security are increasingly complex and must be tackled through the use of cutting-edge science and technology.
That said, I have two points of clarifications to raise.
Qualifications for membership
My first point is on membership.
Section 11 of the Bill provides a list of four categories of individuals who are disqualified from serving as a member of the Agency.
This list is not unfamiliar to us. Indeed, in legislation that provide for the existence of other statutory boards, we see similar sections outlining these conditions for disqualification.
However, this list is different from legislation providing for other statutory boards, such as the “Defence Science and Technology Agency Act” and the “Agency for Science, Technology and Research Act.”
These two statutory boards either deal with similar science and technology topics or exist under the same category in the Public Sector (Governance) Act. Yet they disqualify members differently.
Speaking generally, the A*STAR Act bars those with mental illness, undischarged bankruptcy and unpardoned dishonest offences.
The DSTA Act adds to that list a fourth condition: unpardoned imprisonment of 6 months.
This Bill we read today adds two new conditions: The individual cannot be a judge or judicial officer. The individual also cannot be disqualified from serving as a director or manager under the Companies Act.
I raise two questions pertaining to this point.
One, why have we added these new conditions of disqualification? Why are these conditions relevant here where they are not relevant to other statutory boards?
Two, does the government have plans to harmonise these conditions of membership disqualification?
Mechanisms to safeguard privacy
My second point is about privacy.
Every Singapore citizen appreciates the centrality of public safety and security to our way of life. We are able to walk the streets at night with ease because we know we will be safe.
At the same time, even as Singaporeans feel physically safe, they have also become uneasy at the risks involved with giving away their data. A spate of data leakage from the government has exacerbated such fears.
In its mission to keep Singapore safe, this new Home Team Science and Technology Agency will surely leverage heavy use of data. Minister Teo highlighted that the agency will make intensive usage of video analytics and surveillance in its crime deterrence and incident response.
Given the potential intrusion on privacy that this represents, can the Ministry share the protocols and structures it plans to put in place to safeguard the data it collects?
I have two specific recommendations to make on accountability mechanisms that can be implemented.
First, will the Ministry publish annual reports on its data security measures to enhance public trust on this issue?
Second, will the Ministry consider setting up a hotline for employees to whistleblow on lax data security measures?
It is paramount that the government takes active steps to demonstrate transparency, accountability and security with the great powers our people have entrusted it with.
Take the example of the “smart lamp posts.” ST Engineering won the tender last year and these lamps will hit the streets this year. The press releases have highlighted its benefits to society. We’ll be able to better catch speeding motorists and PMDs. Crime can be further deterred. In times of a transport breakdowns and traffic congestions, authorities can proactively provide solutions.
But some citizens were also surprised by the extensiveness of its systems. Because these street lamps will be able to identify faces in real time and because they might eventually be everywhere, this means there is potentially no place in Singapore where you won’t have data on your whereabouts stored in some government database.
Perhaps most Singaporeans will take the angle that if you do nothing wrong, you have no need to fear. But if leaks of such pervasive, universal data ever happens, it could strongly undermine trust in our public institutions. I hope the Ministry will take proactive steps to prevent such breaches from ever happening.
Sir, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here
Watch the response by MHA here