ICA's BioScreen system: Thumbs-up for thumbprints

A traveller at the Singapore Cruise Centre having her thumbprints recorded. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

From today, travellers arriving in and departing from Singapore by sea, land or air may have their thumbprints recorded at immigration checkpoints.

It is part of a concerted effort by the Republic to keep out terrorists by strengthening its borders.

Implementing the BioScreen system will allow the authorities to verify the identity of each traveller and spot potential security risks as early as possible.

The move underscores the Government's longstanding message that no country is immune to terrorist attacks.

Recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels have forced governments and citizens around the world to confront the threat of terrorism at home.

Last month, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam reiterated that it is not a matter of "if" but "when" a terror attack will hit our shores. The arrests in January of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers, who were plotting attacks in their home country from Singapore, were a reminder that radicalisation can take root anywhere.

Singapore is not the first country to leverage biometric technology to beef up security at checkpoints and other key installations.

The United States started scanning fingerprints of all visitors in 2004, in the light of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks. Regionally, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan began doing so in 2007.

More than half a million people pass through the checkpoints here every day, with Woodlands Checkpoint the busiest land checkpoint in the world.

Also, annual passenger volume at Changi Airport is projected to grow from its current 50 million to 140 million, when Terminal 5 is completed in 10 years' time.

The BioScreen system will help to enhance national security while Singapore grows as a global hub, without the need to increase the number of security personnel significantly.

It may take longer to go through immigration under the new system, especially in its initial phase. But as more Singaporeans begin to understand that the threat of terrorism is real and near, many will give the system the thumbs-up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline 'Thumbs-up for thumbprints'. Subscribe