NEA to use thermal cameras to detect errant smokers – and that’s scary

On 10 September, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor said in parliament that the NEA is exploring the use of thermal cameras to detect illegal smoking.

She says that “the cameras are equipped with heat-detection capabilities that can detect smoking activity and can be operated manually. When deployed, these cameras will be able to capture images of smoking infringement and facilitate NEA’s investigations”.

Dr Khor noted that these cameras will be deployed in areas with persistent smoking issues, including sites like the common corridor, lift lobbies and staircase landings of residential areas.

Singapore already has a very strict policy in place that bans smoking in most indoor locations with smoker only allowed to light up in designated smoking areas. Smokers could be fined between S$200 to S$1,000 if caught smoking in a prohibited area.

Public reception to this new policy proposal is mixed. On the one hand, some people feel like this is a good way to really crack down on the smoking problem in Singapore and drastically reduce the negative impact of second hand smoke.

However, many agree that using thermal cameras to detect smoker is a step too far which infringes of the privacy of Singapore’s people and is a waste of resources that could be better channeled into other worth causes.

Though the NEA has clarified that they will be mindful of ensuring the privacy of the people by focusing only on common areas where smoking is prohibited, the implication of having a government agency using thermal technology to spy on its citizens rather disturbing.

To ease concerns, the NEA added that there will be strict protocols in place about who is authorised to view the footage – similar to that of the high-rise littering camera where only authorised NEA staff and vendors are allowed to handle or view the footage.

Still, one could argue that this is a form of government overreach and will only give the authorities more room and allowance to police its citizens in a way that infringes on their fundamental rights privacy. Of course, smoking is still bad for you and second hand smoke cause terrible damage to bystanders, but there must be some other way to deal with this problem that’s a little less Orwellian.