AskST: Keeping your data safe

From Sept 1 next year, it will be illegal for organisations to collect, use or disclose NRIC numbers or make copies of the identity card under stricter rules spelt out yesterday by the Personal Data Protection Commission. Here is what you need to know.

Q How will this affect me?

A From Sept 1 next year, you will no longer have to give up your NRIC number or card, except in certain special cases.

Q In what situations do I not have to give my NRIC number or card?

A Unless required by law or when it is necessary to accurately identify you, you do not need to supply them. This includes applying for retail memberships, signing up for contests or lucky draws, renting a bicycle, purchasing movie tickets online or completing survey forms. You should also not furnish your NRIC or its details when entering the premises of a condominium or using a computer at an Internet cafe.

Q What are the situations in which I will be compelled to release my NRIC information?

A You will have to provide the information when the law requires it. This includes seeking medical treatment at a general practitioner clinic, which is required under the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Regulations. Another instance is when you are checking into a hotel as the information is required under the Hotel Licensing Regulations. Subscribing to a phone line also requires you to give your NRIC details under the Telecommunications Act.

You can also be asked to furnish your NRIC details when the inability to accurately identify you could cause significant harm. For instance, transactions related to property or healthcare matters, as in the case of insurance applications and claims.

Q What about showing my NRIC for purchases with an age restriction, like tobacco or alcohol, or showing it to verify my identity?

A This is allowed. In such cases, the mere sight of an individual's physical NRIC and information is needed for verification purposes. It is permitted as long as there is no intention to obtain control or possession of the physical NRIC and if no personal data is retained once the NRIC is returned immediately.

Q Does this apply only to the NRIC?

A These stricter rules also apply to cards that have your NRIC number on them, like a driver's licence. The same treatment applies for national identification numbers like birth certificate numbers, foreign identification numbers and work permit numbers. While passport numbers are periodically replaced, organisations should avoid collecting the full passport numbers of individuals as well unless justified.

Q What other alternatives could replace the NRIC for identification purposes?

A Alternatives may include organisation or user-generated IDs, tracking numbers or organisation-issued QR codes, as well as partial NRIC details of up to the last three digits and letter.

Q Will I still be asked for my NRIC details for access to government services and premises?

A Yes. The Advisory Guidelines on NRIC do not apply to the Government. The NRIC number is a unique identifier assigned by the Government to each Singapore resident that is often used for transactions with the Government. As the issuing authority for the NRIC, the Government rightfully uses the NRIC to discharge its functions and services with citizens in a secure manner.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2018, with the headline 'AskST: Keeping your data safe'. Print Edition | Subscribe