Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the National Registration (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 32/2016]
Madam, one of the key amendments of this Bill is the introduction of iris imaging, and my speech will focus on this point.
A much more reliable identifier
We have sufficient proof that iris imaging is far more accurate than all other biometric identifiers available today. Compared to fingerprints, which can wear off, iris scans have a much lower chance of false matches.
It has already been tried, tested and deployed in other parts of the world – from airports, to banks and smartphones. This year, the UN started using it to identify refugees. In the private sector, industry watchers also consider it to be the ‘next big thing’.
Thus, if new technology is available for a safer Singapore, then we must seize it – and I am encouraged that this Bill does reflect the government’s vigilance and eagerness to seize opportunities to strengthen security.
That said, in order for us to reap the full benefits of this new technology, I would like to raise a few questions.
Ensuring the database is secured
Firstly, on the safety of the data collected. There have been many discussions about the collection of biometric data, since identify theft and security breaches are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Iris scans are especially sensitive because it is so powerful – the most advanced scanners can identify many people in a split second, even from a long-range.
The data is almost fool-proof, and is permanent. If this data falls into the hands of people with mal-intentions, the consequences can be dangerous.
The public could have questions about how secure the database will be, whether third parties apart from the government will have access to the data, and so on.
There will always be teething issues with the introduction of any new technology – especially one as personal as this – and we should have ready answers.
In this light, can the Minister share plans on how it will ensure that this new data collected will be secure? And how does the Ministry plan to satisfy the public about this?
Getting public acceptance
Secondly, on user acceptance. Some people might be skeptical – even fearful – of new technology like this, which could seem to be a page out of a science-fiction novel.
For the older generation, there could be misconceptions – will it hurt my eyes, does it involve lasers?
For the younger generation, there could be discomfort from what they see as added government ‘surveillance’.
Certainly, the technology has been tried and tested, but how does the Ministry plan to educate the public to debunk these myths?
Beyond being just an identifier
Thirdly, I would like to find out more about the technology to be deployed at immigration checkpoints. I have read about iris scanners being able to detect stress through indicators such as movement of the eyeballs. Once stress is detected, the system will immediately alert authorities.
If this is truly available, it would be a real step-up for security at checkpoints. Can the Minister share if the iris imaging technology we will acquire can provide this extra layer of security?
Who will have access to the data
My final point is to ask which Ministries and government services will have access to, and use the data. Apart from immigration and the police, are there plans for schools, hospitals and other relevant services to also use this data for identification – perhaps not immediately, but in the longer term?
Madam, in this era where criminal methods are becoming increasingly sophisticated, the government needs to invest in superior technology.
Iris scans have surely proven its effectiveness and I am in full support of it.
But in order for us to reap its full benefits, I hope that we have strict safeguards in place, particularly for data protection.
Madam, these points notwithstanding, I stand in support of the Bill.