Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2019 on "Preparing the Home Team for Future Challenges" - Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 01 March 2019



1. Mr Deputy Chairman, I will focus on the Home Team’s efforts to use science and technology to safeguard Singapore.


Science and Technology and Home Team Transformation


2. The Home Team is in the midst of an ambitious multi-year effort to transform itself to remain effective and capable.


3. Members would be familiar with the challenges confronting the Home Team.


4. The terrorist threat remains high. While ISIS has lost most of its territory in the Middle East, it remains a potent threat, inciting attacks in our part of the world. We continue to see cases of self-radicalisation in Singapore. Crime has also evolved. Criminals are employing more sophisticated tactics with the help of technology. We see this in the rise of cybercrime and online scams. The workload of the Home Team has continued to increase and public expectations are rising.


5. To cope with these challenges, simply increasing manpower is neither sustainable, nor effective. The way forward is for the Home Team to change the way we do things. Technology is key. As Ms Jessica Tan rightly pointed out, technology will enable us to be effective, even in the face of manpower constraints.


Securing our Borders


6. One good example is at our checkpoints. Our borders are Singapore’s first line of defence against security threats. In 2018, we saw more than 212 million travellers and 10 million consignments, containers and parcels cross our checkpoints.


7. Protecting our borders is no easy feat, and will only get more challenging. By 2025, we expect cross-border traveller and cargo volumes to increase by around 40 percent and 70 percent respectively.


8. So, we need to rely on technology to meet these challenges.




9. One way to do so is through biometrics technology. ICA will implement the BioScreen-Multi Modal Biometrics System (BioScreen-MMBS) across our checkpoints later this year. This system will allow ICA to use a combination of any of three biometric identifiers, namely iris, facial and fingerprints, for immigration clearance. This paves the way for a more efficient and secure immigration clearance process.


10. BioScreen-MMBS will provide our officers with a more dynamic tool to accurately identify travellers, especially those who could be of security interest. It will also allow ICA to build a robust biometrics database comprising the face, fingerprints and iris of every individual who crosses our borders, for post-incident investigation.


Enhancing the Home Team’s Operational Effectiveness


11. Technology is critical not only to combating threats at our borders, but also inland. I will highlight a few key areas.


Detection, Sense-making and Surveillance Capabilities


12. First, is detection, sense-making and surveillance capabilities.


13. From major security incidents abroad, we know that a strong, immediate and coordinated response is key to saving lives, neutralising threats and restoring order.


14. This is where technology matters. We have invested heavily in surveillance, command-and-control, and sense-making capabilities.


15. Today, our Police Operations Command Centre uses real-time video feeds and data to enhance incident response. Already, our installation of police cameras (or POLCAM) in public areas has effectively deterred crime. Since 2012, POLCAM and our enforcement efforts have driven down property damage cases due to unlicensed moneylending harassment by over 80 percent.


16. Surveillance capability is also critical for identifying and apprehending terrorists. The FBI used surveillance footage to identify the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing. Photos of the suspects were released within days of the bombing to help the public locate them.


17. We have plans to further strengthen our detection, tracking and sense-making capabilities. Video analytics will allow the Home Team to rapidly track down criminals and terrorists. Joint operational dashboards and common situation pictures will enable us to deliver more coordinated responses to incidents.




18. The second area is forensics.


19. Technology can also improve our forensics methods. For example, Police are exploring the digitalisation of forensic data, and building intelligence into forensics systems, to improve their sense-making and analytical prowess. Digital forensic laboratories will enhance our ability to extract evidence from digital devices.


20. These capabilities will go a long way in enabling the Home Team to rapidly generate leads, and to apprehend the offenders.


Robotics and Unmanned Systems


21. The third area is in robotics and unmanned systems. We will continue to strengthen and augment our physical force and presence using robotics and unmanned systems.


22. SPF and SCDF are already doing so. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) give ground commanders a bird’s eye view of the operating terrain, and enhances their situational awareness. Robots can help firefighters tackle large-scale fires more effectively and safely.


23. Robots and UAVs will eventually be able to carry out even more complex tasks autonomously. They will play a greater role in surveillance, search and rescue operations, and in dealing with hazardous materials.


Building a Dedicated Science and Technology Agency for the Home Team to Augment and Maintain the Home Team’s Operational Edge


24. The fourth area is in building a dedicated Science and Technology agency for the Home Team to augment and maintain the Home Team’s operational edge.


25. Mr Chairman and Members, I have spoken about some of the important capabilities that support the Home Team’s current operations that help to keep security threats at bay. But we know, that heading into a future where science and technology will play a bigger part, we have to up the game, in order to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe.


26. MHA has thus far partnered other government agencies, such as GovTech, DSTA, and DSO, as well as industry partners like ST Engineering and Singtel, to develop these capabilities.


27. We are currently ramping up our collaboration and partnership with these and other partners.For example, MHA will work with GovTech more closely in the area of ICT and digital services. DSTA will help MHA to develop future command and control systems and new marine platforms.


28. But as we look to further leverage technology, we will need to set up a dedicated agency to further develop the Home Team’s science and technology capabilities. And why is a dedicated agency going to be able to do it better?


29. First, many of the capabilities I have spoken about, such as forensics, biometrics and surveillance, will become increasingly critical to safeguarding Singapore. We must stay ahead in these areas.


30. Second, many of these capabilities are unique to the Home Team, reflecting our distinct operational context and mission requirements. Like other countries which have dedicated technical agencies for homeland security, the Home Team needs to strengthen our core team of scientists and engineers.


31. Third, a dedicated agency will boost the joint Home Team approach, with capabilities developed and shared across Departments.


32. Lastly, centralising science and technology talent that is today distributed across the different Home Team departments, will better support career development for the officers, which in turn deepens organisational capabilities.


33. Ultimately, to combat fast-evolving security threats and to safeguard Singapore, the Home Team must possess deep in-house capabilities, expertise to build mission-critical abilities in a responsive manner.


34. Miss Jessica Tan, Mr Christopher de Souza, Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Mr Low Thia Khiang asked about our plans for and the role of the new agency.


35. We intend to table a bill in Parliament to establish a Home Team science and technology agency as a Statutory Board under MHA. It will be responsible for developing and sustaining capabilities to support Home Team Departments. To achieve this, the agency will conduct applied research, and develop new systems to be deployed in the Home Team’s various operations. The agency will help to direct our investments in capability development, which will more than double from $979M in FY2019, to $1.9B in FY2025.


36. For the scientists and engineers of this new agency, technical expertise is necessary, but not sufficient. They must also have a deep understanding of the Home Team’s unique operational needs, in order to apply and integrate effective solutions, and to work alongside Home Team officers. They will be part of the Home Team, so that we can build capabilities in a timely and responsive manner. The new agency will not duplicate efforts, but will continue to tap on existing Whole of Government centres of expertise.


37. We are looking to establish the agency by the end of the year, and will provide more details in due course. I look forward to the debate in Parliament and welcome members’ views and contributions when we table the Bill.


38. Mr Low Thia Khiang asked an important question about data security. This is an issue that is very much on our minds, especially as the use of technology and data becomes more prevalent across the Home Team.


39. Today, there are already strict guidelines on how data is collected, accessed, stored, and protected in the Home Team. For example, sensitive data can only be accessed by authorised officers who have a legitimate purpose for doing so.There are also systems in place that help to track and monitor what data was accessed, or modified by whom, to guard against abuse, and to ensure that data collected is authentic and secure. So, there is a trail, and you can find out who made what modifications.


40. Where a citizen suspects that his personal data has been misused by any Home Team Department, he should approach my Ministry, or GovTech, and action will be taken to investigate, to find out and if something was done, to take disciplinary action. Anyone found abusing data for unauthorised use will be severely dealt with under the law.


41. Sir, our surveillance and data collection capabilities serve no other purpose than to allow us to better safeguard Singapore and Singaporeans. 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.




42. Mr Chairman, if you will allow me, I would like to conclude in Mandarin.


43. 未来几年,科学与科技将为维护新加坡的安全与治安扮演着举足轻重的角色。






44. Thank you.


Science and Technology
Managing Security Threats