Security at arrival checkpoints cannot be compromised

Changi Airport is getting busier by the day. Long queues at arrival immigration counters are now normal during peak hours.

Singaporeans are allowed to use the enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System. Passport holders from Australia, China and some other countries may also apply to use it if they meet certain eligibility criteria.

But recently, when I was at Changi Airport Terminal 3, I saw Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers directing a group of tourists to use the automated lane.

I inquired with an officer and was told that all biometric passport holders could use it.

When passengers depart Singapore, immigration officers and security staff check their passports and boarding passes before they enter the departure hall and after they pass through the automated immigration clearance, to ensure the passport has not been tampered with.

But this is not done for arrivals.

Who checks for a tampered travel document if the automated system is opened to everyone? The system verifies only the fingerprint. But this is dependent on the integrity of the passport's issuing authority.

If the automated system is so good, then why do departing travellers have to be checked twice by two sets of security officers? If we count the vetting done when the airline boarding pass is issued, then it is a total of three manual checks.

Another inconsistency is the taking of biometric prints at the manned clearance counters. I notice that the officers sometimes take my prints and sometimes not.

In other countries, if there is a camera or fingerprint reader, it is always used.

Automation cuts down on operational cost, improves efficiency and reduces manpower. But this cannot come at the cost of reduced security at our first line of defence.

We do not always need to be on the cutting edge of technology. We still need good people and processes to make the system secure and to sniff out those who mean harm to Singapore from bona fide travellers.

Larry Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Security at arrival checkpoints cannot be compromised'. Print Edition | Subscribe