Speech by Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 19/2022)
This Bill will expand the collection and use of identifying information and DNA information.
Such information helps law enforcement agencies do their work more effectively. Because such information is sensitive, I support provisions in this Bill that protect such information when it is collected.
I have four clarifications, all relating to safeguards for the collection and removal of this information.
Forcible taking of samples
My first clarification has to do with the forcible taking of samples.
Under the new section 25, if an individual refuses to give a body sample that is not an invasive sample, a DNA officer may use force to take that body sample.
I think we can agree that having a body sample forcibly taken from us can be intrusive, distressing and traumatic.
Can Minister share how will DNA officers be trained to decide whether they should use force to take a body sample? What factors will DNA officers be asked to consider?
Will there be checks and penalties to ensure that such acts of force, once done, are warranted and justified?
Consent of those below 16 years old
My second clarification is on taking samples from those below 16 years old.
We should exercise extreme caution when taking samples from such young people. It is well-established that children and younger teenagers lack the ability to understand the full implications of their bodily consent.
They don’t know what they’re really saying yes to, and there’s good reason that the consent of parents and guardians are routinely required in such decisions.
However, this Bill allows DNA officers to essentially ignore the parents and guardians’ preference under certain conditions. Two are noteworthy.
The first condition is that the consent of the parent or guardian is refused without good cause or cannot be obtained despite reasonable efforts.
Can Minister provide examples of what would constitute good cause and reasonable efforts?
The second condition is that the underaged person is “willing” to give the sample.
Can Minister clarify how DNA officers will ensure this “willingness” is an informed, meaningful one? Will they simply accept a vocal “yes”?
The reality is that the child or young teenager in this situation may feel pressured by the police and other powerful adults bearing down on them.
What rules and checks will be in place to ensure DNA officers, police officers and other officers do not create undue pressure on these young minds to consent?
Individuals allowed to apply to remove information
My third clarification is on the removal of recorded information.
With the amendments, the default position is that data will be retained for individuals who have been acquitted, granted a discharge amounting to an acquittal or had their offence compounded.
The onus is on them to apply to remove their data. Otherwise, it will stay in the system.
Can Minister share how these individuals will be informed of the option to apply for their data to be removed? What steps will be taken to ensure that the application process is transparent and reasonably easy to access?
Relatedly, it seems that an individual granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal may not apply for their information to be removed.
Can Minister clarify if this is in fact the position? Given that a discharge not amounting to an acquittal is significantly different in nature from a conviction, can Minister share if discretion may be exercised to allow the removal of information if there is a discharge not amounting to an acquittal?
Can Minister also clarify whether an individual who has been given a stern warning will have their data information immediately removed after the end of investigations or will be entitled to apply for such removal?
Application for removal of information
My fourth clarification has to do with the application process to remove information.
Section 39 makes clear that certain individuals will be rejected if they apply to remove their information. This is because their information is considered sensitive – it is relevant to another ongoing prosecution or investigation, or there are other national security concerns.
My question is this: Will these individuals be told when their information is no longer considered sensitive? If not, how will they know whether they should apply again or not?
Just as important, how will prescribed timelines apply to such individuals? How can they be expected to follow the prescribed timelines for a removal application when their information may be sensitive for a long time and then become non-sensitive without their knowledge?
In my view, the default action should be to remove someone’s information without a fresh application if the individual was earlier rejected due to a Section 39 reason and the reason no longer holds. After all, the individual had already demonstrated their preference for the removal. We should not require someone to apply again. If these individuals will be required to re-apply, will they be informed of the opportunity to make a fresh application?
Notwithstanding these clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.