Fingerprint scans for all visitors to beef up security

Motorcyclists bound for Singapore scanning their fingerprints while going through the automated clearance channels at Woodlands Checkpoint. Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee noted that more than half a million people pass through
Motorcyclists bound for Singapore scanning their fingerprints while going through the automated clearance channels at Woodlands Checkpoint. Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee noted that more than half a million people pass through Singapore's checkpoints every day, with the Woodlands checkpoint being the busiest land checkpoint in the world.ST FILE PHOTO

This measure will also allow travellers to use automated clearance lanes when they leave

From June, all travellers arriving in Singapore by land, air or sea will have their fingerprints taken at checkpoints, as the Republic tightens its defences against terrorists.

The fingerprint records will be used to verify the identity of each traveller before he is allowed to enter Singapore, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee in Parliament yesterday.

The move will also allow travellers to use automated clearance lanes or self-service kiosks when they depart, he added.

Other measures to tackle the heightened terror threat include more surveillance cameras in Housing Board estates and public areas by this year, and more patrols along the coastline.

For now, only those opting to use automated immigration clearance lanes are required to scan thumbprints using biometric technology.

All travellers arriving at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal are also being fingerprinted as part of the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority's (ICA) pilot BioScreen project. The Straits Times understands that ICA is in the midst of installing fingerprint scanners in manned immigration counters at all checkpoints.

The United States started scanning fingerprints of all visitors in 2004, in the aftermath of the Sept 11 terror attacks of 2001.

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan also introduced fingerprint scans from 2007.

Mr Lee said that Singapore has to strengthen its borders amid the persistent terrorism threat posed by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and foreign fighters now returning to their home countries who could carry out attacks.

With the fingerprinting technology, immigration authorities can maintain a high level of security at checkpoints, while "facilitating efficient travel".

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) had asked about the measures being taken to beef up border security.

Mr Lee noted that more than half a million people pass through Singapore's checkpoints every day, with the Woodlands checkpoint being the busiest land checkpoint in the world.

"These present security risks. Attackers can gather and plan just outside Singapore before coming into Singapore to carry out the attack," said Mr Lee. For example, the attacks in Paris last November were planned in Brussels where "security was less tight".

"Border control is, therefore, our first line of defence to prevent an attack from taking place in Singapore," said Mr Lee.

The United States started scanning fingerprints of all visitors in 2004, in the aftermath of the Sept 11 terror attacks of 2001.

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan also introduced fingerprint scans from 2007.

Given the manpower crunch, new technology will also help the Home Team to detect and deter crime.

Replying to Mr de Souza, Mr Lee said the police are looking into using unmanned aerial vehicles to capture a more comprehensive situational picture during public order incidents and investing in data analytics to spot potential threats and criminal activities. All this will allow the police to deploy resources in the most efficient way, channelling them where they are most needed, he said.

The public will also have a role to play as the police tap crowdsourcing technology, said Mr Lee, adding that government efforts alone will not be enough in dealing with terrorism.

"We must be more alert to help prevent a terrorist attack from happening. Above all, when a terrorist attack happens, we must stay united and resilient as one people."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'Fingerprint scans for all visitors to beef up security'. Print Edition | Subscribe