SAF relaxes rules on mobile devices in camps

The Singapore Armed Forces has tweaked its restrictions on smartphones and other electronic devices. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has tweaked its restrictions on smartphones and other electronic devices.

Since the beginning of the month, the ban on personal tablets and laptops in camps has been lifted, allowing servicemen to use these devices in green zones, which include cookhouses, bunks and medical centres.

Previously, personal tablets and laptops could be used only in business centres in selected camps.

Smartphones can also now be used in zones marked red, which include unit operations rooms and offices with sensitive information, so long as the camera has been disabled. This can be done by either grinding or sandblasting the camera lens, or taking out the camera unit.

Previously, servicemen were allowed to use camera-equipped phones only in the less sensitive green zones. Those entering the no-camera phone red zones had to deposit their phones in lockers.

The Defence Ministry confirmed the move, saying that servicemen will have to prove that the cameras in their modified smartphones or smartwatches comply with its standards of "being permanently unusable" before being allowed into the red zones.

The latest moves reflect the soaring popularity of camera-enabled smartphones or devices and will minimise disruption for its personnel, especially national servicemen who attend their annual in-camp training.

More than 70 per cent of the some 7.3 million mobile phones in Singapore are camera-equipped smartphones.

In a nod to this trend, the SAF divided camps into green and red zones in 2012, allowing personnel to use camera phones in the non-sensitive green zones.

Previously, selected commanders and operational personnel were also issued with "modified smartphones" - which have had the cameras removed - on a trial basis.

Now, the military is also testing out a mobile device management technology that can remotely disable cameras in its mobile devices and wipe out their data.

Operationally ready national serviceman Mike Tay said that fewer restrictions on laptops and tablets will make it less troublesome for servicemen.

This will allow them to catch up on their work in between training.

But the 29-year-old accountant, who is an infantry officer, said he will not be modifying his smartphone. "I take pictures with my phone all the time... why would I waste the time and money to get it removed just for reservist which only happens once a year."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 27, 2016, with the headline SAF relaxes rules on mobile devices in camps. Subscribe