System needed to prevent misuse of smart lamp posts

I agree with Mr Tan Pin Ho that the possible abuse of surveillance data is a concern with the smart lamp post programme (Smart lamp posts not to impress; April 27).

Several people have said that people should have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide.

However, we have already seen past cases where individual police officers have, unfortunately, misused the internal police computer system to find out personal information about citizens (Inspector fined for illegal search; April 29, 2015).

The use of facial recognition technology is a far more intimate aspect of personal information, because it can be used to find out where a person is and what he is doing at a particular point in time.

Furthermore, on a systemic level, we cannot be absolutely sure that future governments may not be tempted to misuse the system.

This is the same rationale that the Government has stated for the elected presidency - in that the president has the power to veto any misuse of our national reserves.

It is, thus, not a stretch to have a similar system of checks and balances built into the smart lamp post programme, particularly with regard to the use of facial recognition.

One possibility is to have the use of the facial recognition feature assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For example, in the context of law enforcement, this could involve the meeting a legal threshold, such as when there is a suspect at large who presents a clear, definite and immediate danger to the public.

There are already such thresholds in law enforcement.

In Singapore, we have a "use of force" doctrine that governs the responses of police officers to threats on the ground.

In the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court oversees warrant requests by American intelligence agencies for surveillance operations conducted on domestic soil.

There is, thus, a possibility of adapting these models to construct a "use of facial recognition" doctrine that works in the Singapore context.

I hope the authorities will look into this and come up with a set of proposals to assuage the concerns of the public.

Ajinkya Suhas Chougule

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2018, with the headline 'System needed to prevent misuse of smart lamp posts'. Print Edition | Subscribe