SINGAPORE: Iris scans will be progressively introduced at Singapore's land and sea checkpoints within the next two years to boost identity verification methods.
This comes after the Parliament passed amendments to the National Registration Act to strengthen the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Thursday (Nov 10).
Currently, photographs and fingerprints are used to identify travellers at Singapore's checkpoints. But from next year, ICA will start collecting iris images from Singaporeans and Permanent Residents.
This will be done during ICA interactions during the IC registration and re-registration process, as well as during passport applications and collection.
Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said it will be a contactless and non-intrusive process that boosts border security and eases queues at Singapore's checkpoints.
"A person's appearance can change over time,” said Mr Lee. “A person's fingerprints may also wear out over time as he gets older, or if he does a lot of manual work.”
According to Mr Lee, the ICA has received feedback from travellers who found it difficult to use the automated clearance gates at the checkpoints. “These travellers had to be directed to the manned counters instead and this has been a source of intrigue, and sometimes frustration to them, and also fellow travellers queuing up behind them to use the automated lanes,” he said.
Members of Parliament (MPs) who rose in support of the move acknowledged the growing use of iris scans in other countries like the UK and US, and the benefits of such technology. But amid that enthusiasm was a bigger concern: How can such sensitive data be protected from theft and abuse?
"As scanning of irises is contactless and non-intrusive, the technology could potentially scan irises covertly, as opposed to the scanning of thumbprints which requires active participation of the person being identified,” said MP for West Coast GRC Patrick Tay. “Once an iris becomes a digital file, that file will need to be adequately protected against an attack. Systems can be hacked, biometric identifiers could be stolen and misused.”
MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Joan Pereira, said: “Another concern is the possibility of recreating synthetic eye images that match digital iris codes used by iris-recognition systems to identify people. Some researchers had already found a way to replicate such images - creating the possibility of stealing someone’s identity through their iris."
Mr Lee sought to assure members of the House that security measures were already in place. "First, ICA has strict user access controls,” he said. “Only authorised ICA officers can access the database as part of their work. Regular audits are conducted, and those caught using the data will be punished.
“Second, sensitive data like fingerprints and eye images are encrypted, before storage in a secure database. Third, ICA servers are protected by physical and software measures in line with international security standards," he stated.
The National Registration Act, he added, tightly restricts the instances in which these personal identifiers can be shared.