Cybersecurity is at the forefront of our MPs’ questions on the Immigration (Amendment) Bill

Travel is back, and it can be much smoother and more secure.

Between the resurgent number of flights at Changi Airport and the crowd of people taking some time crossing the Causeway during the Polling Day long weekend, two things are for certain: Travel is back, and it can be much smoother and more secure. 

Anticipating these needs, our MPs voted to pass the Immigration (Amendment) Bill today. The Bill’s amendments include digitalising and automating immigration processes (think innovations like biometric passports for automated clearance lanes).  

It also allows for more effective responses to events such as pandemics (foreigners can be temporarily banned from entering Singapore on public health grounds yet retain their PR status or immigration pass). Additionally, the Bill’s new No-Boarding Directives (NBDs) to direct transport operators strengthens Singapore’s border controls against undesirable persons

“This is imperative for Singapore’s safety and security and to maintain our status as a world-class transport hub and destination,” said Second Minister of Home Affairs Josephine Teo to Parliament, who brought the Bill and its amendments to Parliament. 

Cybersecurity measures on the back end and in-person

Indeed, Singapore’s thriving economy and culture have always depended upon many different people moving in and out of the country. This has not changed during the current era of digitalisation. Unfortunately for Singapore, this era presents newer threats, including data breaches and identity theft. 

Source: Jansen Yang / Unsplash 

Hence our PAP MPs supporting the Amended Bill while also querying its cybersecurity measures and inclusivity. 

“Given the increased data collection and usage, what are the cybersecurity measures taken to enhance the integrity and security of the data?” asked MP Shawn Huang (Jurong GRC).  

His question echoed MP Gan Thiam Poh’s (Ang Mo Kio GRC) note that identity theft is possible during biometric data breaches. 

“[The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA)] will retain traveller data only for the period necessary for immigration processing, analytics or investigation. Once these tasks are completed, and ICA no longer needs the data, they will be depersonalised and properly deleted,” reassured Minister Teo. 

She also noted that in the unlikely event of a data breach, ICA, system vendors and the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HDX) will immediately act to stop it and prevent further ones. 

Plus, MP Gan did not forget about people who may have difficulties during this change. Older people with cataracts in their eyes may not be able to provide accurate biometric data for iris scans nor type in digital details accurately, for example. 

Minister Teo clarified that immigration officers will be on hand to help seniors with the immigration process. This is on-site and immediate help for securing the integrity of Singaporeans’ personal data. 

More effective border control in the long-term

As for the added NBDs, their smooth execution will be a long-term difference-maker for border control.  

MPs Derrick Goh (Nee Soon GRC), Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC) were quick to ask then about real-world variables — no matter whether ground challenges, human errors or a lack of technological savvy among transport operators — which may make these NBDs less effective.  

“We will continue discussions with the operators to find a practicable way forward before proceeding. It is premature to go into details, but in the event of non-compliance. ICA intends to make a holistic assessment of the facts of the case before deciding whether to prosecute. The offence of failing to comply with NBDs will likely be compoundable and this can be provided for in subsidiary legislation,” answered Minister Teo.

Source: Josephine Teo / Facebook, Wikimedia

Singaporean travellers, then, can not only travel faster during the upcoming months and years. They can consistently come back to a more secure Singapore — our Party’s work to make immigration processes more robust, effective and efficient has got the country’s borders and cybersecurity both covered.