PARLIAMENT

More scope to share crime-fighting data

Law enforcement agencies here can share information such as photographs, fingerprints and criminal records with their foreign counterparts, under changes to the law approved yesterday.

Countries need to work closely to combat the rising scourge of transnational organised crime and terrorism, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee told the House during the debate on changes to the Registration of Criminals Act.

Three MPs - Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) - spoke in support of the changes, though there were concerns over the potential misuse of shared information.

Mr Lee assured the House that there are stringent safeguards so as to "strike a balance between cooperation and confidentiality".

"The exchange of information is essential to our international cooperation, crime control and border security efforts," he said. And Singapore, as a global hub, is a "potential target for organised crime and terrorist groups and a possible conduit for their activities".

With the changes in the law, fingerprints lifted at a crime scene in Singapore can be compared with records elsewhere to identify foreign suspects.

NO UNNECESSARY DISCLOSURES

We will not accede to any request for information to be disclosed for any purpose that is unrelated to the prevention and combating of crime and terrorism, such as for employment screening purposes.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR HOME AFFAIRS DESMOND LEE

Information on the criminal background of an individual will also help in the identification of recalcitrant offenders and the detection of suspicious persons at border checkpoints, Mr Lee said.

The latest amendments, he added, complement a series of longstanding "formal and informal cooperation channels" under which information has been exchanged with foreign counterparts, and will allow Singapore to "act more quickly and effectively".

One key safeguard is that information will be shared only for the specific purpose of criminal investigations, and on the condition that the foreign counterpart takes steps to protect confidentiality.

"Requests that are made in a broad or tenuous manner or 'fishing expeditions' will not be acceded to," Mr Lee said. "We will not accede to any request for information to be disclosed for any purpose that is unrelated to the prevention and combating of crime and terrorism, such as for employment screening purposes."

This law applies to data in the criminal register, which contains records of convicts and ex-convicts. It excludes those who are acquitted, or whose convictions have been spent.

Data will also not be shared if it is deemed to be against public interest, if it could prejudice ongoing proceedings here, or if it might affect the safety of people in Singapore.

The law was also changed to allow agencies to take particulars, such as fingerprints and body samples, from a suspect who has been released on bail. Previously, these particulars could be obtained only within 48 hours of arrest.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'More scope to share crime-fighting data'. Print Edition | Subscribe