Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr Desmond Lee told the Parliament that Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) plans to introduce iris scan technology progressively at the country’s land, air and sea checkpoints within the next two years, starting from 2017.
The Parliament passed amendments to the National Registration Act to strengthen the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the ICA on Thursday (10 November).
Mr Desmond noted that this technology has been used in the Netherlands and Germany since the early 2000s, while the United Arab Emirates has mandated the collection of iris images from all citizens since 2013.
The collection of the iris will be done this part of ICA’s existing interactions with the public, include compulsory NRIC registration and re-registration – there are currently two phases, one at age 15 and one at age 30 – as well as during passport application and renewal. It will also enrol an individual’s iris images when he collects his new NRIC or passport.
He said that the aim of the iris’ collection is to complement the current fingerprint matching process at immigration clearance. Therefore, travellers using the automatic clearance lanes who find that their fingerprints cannot be matched, can also use iris scans, instead of being re-directed to manned counters.
The amended laws will also allow ICA to refuse the registration of inappropriate names if they are deemed to be offensive, such as with an obscenity or resembles or represents a title, rank or award. Mr Desmond said that registrations of inappropriate names, though “very few and far between”, happen from time to time.
ICA has strict user access controls. Mr Desmond said that only authorised ICA officers can access the database as part of their work. Regular audits are conducted. Those caught misusing the data will be punished.
He said that sensitive data like fingerprint and iris images are encrypted before storage in a secure database and ICA’s servers are protected by physical and software measures, in line with international security standards.
The National Registration Regulations also tightly regulate and restrict the instances under which personal identifiers such as fingerprints and iris images may be shared. Unauthorised access or disclosure is an offence.
Mr Desmond also said that almost all personal identifiers will have their inherent vulnerabilities or limitations, which is already the case for fingerprints, photographs and facial features. For instance, fingerprints can fade with time, or if the person does a lot of manual work. A person will also look different with age. So if a person registered at 15, and when this person 30, the photograph will look different over time.
Based on reports by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology of the US Department of Commerce, iris patterns are relatively stable over time and have lower mismatch rates as compared to other biometric identifiers.
As for those whose iris images cannot be effectively scanned or enrolled due to medical reasons such as cataracts, ICA will continue to rely on other identifiers such as fingerprints or facial recognition to identify such individuals.
Mr Desmond said that another amendment to the Act allows the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to appoint people outside the agency, such as private entities, to be registration officers. He strssed that they perform “carefully selected” functions which include the enrolment of iris images.
When asked if the ICA would consider replacing destroyed or lost ICs for free for low-income Singaporeans, Mr Desmond said that the high cost of replacing a lost card – $100 for the first loss and $300 after that – could deter them from replacing lost ICs, making it hard for them to seek support.
Therefore, ICA will consider waiving some or all of the fee based on the circumstances and the reason for the loss of the card.[iframe id=”http://www.channelnewsasia.com/starterkit/servlet/fragment?id=3278040&view=embed&h=360&w=640″]