Home Team’s new science and tech agency to focus on robots, surveillance capability: Josephine Teo
The Second Minister for Home Affairs says it plans to table a bill to establish the agency as a statutory board under the ministry
SINGAPORE: The Home Team’s new science and technology agency will focus on cutting-edge technology such as detection and surveillance capability, forensics as well as robotics and unmanned systems, according to Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.
Speaking during the ministry’s Committee of Supply debates in Parliament on Friday (Mar 1), Mrs Teo said science and technology helps MHA to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe amid a landscape that sees high terrorist threat, evolving crimes with help from tech and increased workload.
Technology is today already employed in keeping our checkpoints secured, she pointed out.
The ministry saw more than 212 million travellers and 10 million consignments, containers and parcels cross the checkpoints in 2018, and this number is expected to increase by around 40 per cent and 70 per cent, respectively, by 2025, she added.
To cope with this, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will implement the BioScreen-Multi Modal Biometrics System later this year for a “more efficient and secure” immigration clearance process, Mrs Teo said.
DEVELOPING CUTTING-EDGE TECH
She also highlighted three key capability areas that will need bolstering:
- Detection, sense-making and surveillance
The MHA has invested heavily in surveillance, command-and-control and sense-making capabilities.
For instance, the Police Operations Command Centre uses real-time video feeds and data to enhance incident response, while police cameras (PolCam) have helped deter crimes such as property damage due to unlicensed moneylending harassment by more than 80 per cent.
There are plans to further strengthen this area; video analytics, for one , will allow the Home Team to rapidly track down criminals and terrorists, Mrs Teo said. Joint operational dashboards and common situation pictures will enable authorities to deliver more coordinated responses to incidents, she added.
The minister also mentioned forensics methods, saying police are exploring the digitalisation of forensic data and building intelligence into forensics systems to improve analysis.
Digital forensic laboratories will also enhance its ability to extract evidence from digital devices, she added.
- Robotics and unmanned systems
Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) are already using robotics and unmanned systems to augment its operations, and this will continue, the minister said.
Robots, for one, can help firefighters tackle large-scale fires more effectively and safely while unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, enhance ground commanders’ situational awareness.
“Robots and UAVs will eventually be able to carry out even more complex tasks autonomously,” Mrs Teo said. “They will play a greater role in surveillance, search-and-rescue operations and in dealing with hazardous materials.”
BUILDING INTERNAL KNOW-HOW
MHA has thus far partnered other Government agencies like the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and DSO, as well as those from the private sector like ST Engineering and Singtel to develop these capabilities, she said.
However, to further use tech, there is a need to set up a dedicated agency to further develop the Home Team’s science and technology capabilities, Mrs Teo said.
Capabilities like forensics, biometrics and surveillance will become “increasingly critical” to safeguarding Singapore, and the ministry “must stay ahead” in these areas, she explained.
Many of these capabilities are also “unique to the Home Team” and, like other countries, they need scientists and engineers of their own, she added.
The agency will conduct applied research and develop new systems for deployment within the Home Team, and it will help direct investments in capability development - which will more than double from S$979 million in Financial Year 2019 to S$1.9 billion in FY2025, the minister said.
“Ultimately, to combat fast-evolving security threats and to safeguard Singapore, the Home Team must posses deep in-house capabilities, expertise to build mission-critical capabilities in a responsive manner,” Mrs Teo said.
There are plans to table a bill in Parliament to establish the dedicated agency by the end of the year as a statutory board under the MHA, she added.
DATA SECURITY VITAL TO SAFEGUARD PUBLIC TRUST
Mrs Teo also acknowledged concerns about data security expressed by Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang, and said it is an important issue, especially as the use of technology and data becomes more prevalent across the Home Team.
Elaborating, she said there are already strict guidelines on how data is collected, accessed, stored and protected today. For instance, sensitive data can only be accessed by authorised officers who have a legitimate purpose for doing so.
There are also systems in place to help track and monitor what data was accessed or modified, and by whom, so as to guard against abuse and ensure the data collected is authentic and secure, she added.
The minister also stressed that where a citizen suspects that his or her personal data has been misused by any officer, the person should approach MHA or GovTech and “disciplinary action" will be taken.
“Our surveillance and data collection capabilities serve no other purpose than to allow us to better safeguard Singapore,” Mrs Teo said.
“MHA takes its responsibility as custodian of the data it collects very seriously. We, of all agencies, understand that any data abuse, breach or leak can severely compromise public trust.”