Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2023 on “Playing Our Part to Keep Singapore Safe and Secure” – Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information & Second Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 27 February 2023


1.   Mr Chairman, at the outset, let me thank Mr Murali and Members for their recognition of our SCDF officers as well as the team behind Ops Lionheart – they have done us proud. We are glad that Singapore was able to make a small contribution in a very tragic situation.

2.   Sir, Singapore remains one of the safest countries in the world.  

(a)   Since 2015, we have been ranked first in Gallup’s Global Law and Order Report, except in 2021 when the survey was not conducted here due to the pandemic.  

(b)   In the 2022 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, Singapore was ranked as one of the top three countries in “order and security”, for the sixth time in a row. 

3.   These accolades do not mean we can take our peaceful state of affairs for granted. On the contrary, given the dynamic operating environment, the Home Team is constantly challenged with emerging threats. These include foreign interference, scams and other cybercrimes, and a more permissive global attitude towards drugs.

4.   My MHA colleagues and I will share how we are responding to these challenges and also address points raised by Members. 

(a)   Minister of State Faishal will speak on our efforts to combat drug abuse, including by enhancing our rehabilitation programmes. 

(b)   Minister of State Sun Xueling will speak on our multi-pronged approach to tackle scams. 

(c)   I will speak about online crimes more generally. 

Our Social Compact for Online Safety

5.   We have been able to keep our country safe and secure, in large part because the public has placed a high level of trust and confidence in the Home Team, and also do their part to uphold law and order.

6.   This compact between Singaporeans and the Home Team is important, and extends to the online domain. I spoke at the SNDGG Committee of Supply debate about the digital social compact. 

7.   Within our security social compact, the Government enacts laws and policies, giving due consideration to all parties who have a stake. We earn the public’s trust by enforcing laws in a fair and transparent manner, and by consistently delivering good safety and security outcomes. 

(a)   In the online space, the Government does not set out to dictate or curtail the adoption of technology or use of online platforms. However, we have a duty to protect our citizens from online harms, the same way we deal with threats in the physical domain. 

(b)   The measures we take must be reasonable and calibrated. 

(c)   As for the individual, we have a part to play by being alert and vigilant, and by looking out for the vulnerable amongst us, who may be more susceptible to crimes carried out online. 

Upcoming Legislation to Counter Online Crimes 

8.   Mr Murali, Mr Zhulkarnain and Mr Nair asked for an update on legislation to target online criminal harms. Let me share our plan. 

9.   Online harms are constantly evolving and take various forms. 

(a)   They include falsehoods, foreign interference, and inappropriate sexual abuse material. 

(b)   Online mediums are also exploited to incite violence, carry out scams at scale, and traffic drugs.

10.   There is a growing international consensus for rules to combat online harm. For example, jurisdictions such as the UK, the EU, Germany and Australia have introduced or proposed new laws to regulate the online space. 

11.   Over the years, the Government has taken steps to deal with different types of harmful online content and behaviours. 

(a)   We introduced the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act and the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act. 

(b)   The Broadcasting Act was recently amended, to deal with harms that impact user safety, such as suicide and self-harm, cyberbullying, and content likely to undermine racial and religious harmony. We can also block access to egregious content on online communications services, including social media platforms. 

12.   But there remain gaps. There is online content which are criminal in their own right, or content which facilitate or abet crimes. 

(a)   These include syndicated crimes such as scams, online incitement of mass public disorder, and malicious cyber activities such as phishing and the distribution of malware. 

(b)   We have been monitoring these developments closely, and intend to update our suite of legislation to better protect our people.

13.   MHA will therefore be introducing the Online Criminal Harms Act later this year. 

14.   The proposed Online Criminal Harms Act builds on our current laws in three ways. 

(a)   First, it will expand the scope of regulatory levers that we can apply to online criminal activities. This includes powers to stop or remove online communications that facilitate crimes in the physical world, such as inciting violence. 

(b)   Second, it will increase the scope of entities we can act against. It will cover all mediums of online communication through which criminal activities could be conducted. 

(c)   Third, it will introduce levers that deal more effectively with the nature of the online criminal harms. To Mr Derrick Goh’s question on how online entities can be involved in prevention and can be held more accountable, the new legislation will introduce upstream measures to detect and reduce scams, such as safeguards against inauthentic accounts. This legislation will also apply to other malicious cyber activities like phishing.

Online Gambling

15.   Mr Chairman, MHA continues to monitor closely one specific type of online harm, that of online gambling. 

16.   As members know, gambling is prohibited unless licensed or exempted. This applies whether gambling takes place online, or physically. 

17.   In 2022, we amended our gambling legislation to ensure that our laws are up-to-date, and able to address emerging trends. This is especially as the lines between gambling and gaming have become blurred.

18.   Take the example of video games with loot boxes. 

(a)   They may feature a range of virtual items of value, which a player may win with varying probabilities. 

(b)   We allow games with such loot boxes via a class licensing regime, but only if the game fulfils either of two key conditions. The loot box within the game must be entirely free of charge to play. Otherwise, the game must not contain monetisation facilities; meaning that players cannot exchange the virtual prizes for real-world pay-outs, such as money or merchandise. 

19.   This is a practical and balanced approach. 

(a)   It ensures we safeguard against gambling inducement, rather than gaming.  

(b)   We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of our gambling legislation, and update our regulatory approach where needed. 

Home Team Transformation

20.   Beyond legislation, the Home Team must constantly enhance our capabilities to respond to evolving threats. Mr Murali asked about the returns from our transformation efforts and how we will make future investments. 

(a)   Over the past five years, an average of about 30 per cent of the Home Team’s expenditure has been on capability development, including investing in new technological solutions. 

(b)   We will continue such investments to improve our operations, and reduce our reliance on manpower. The results can be seen through how the Home Team has been transforming in four areas: Processes, Platforms, People and Partnerships – four ‘P’s. 


21.   First, our processes. Over the years, we have used automation and biometrics to make our immigration clearance more efficient. Today, Singaporeans who travel through Changi Airport are familiar with the automated immigration clearance gates. 

(a)   We want to further smoothen clearance processes. Since January 2017, we have implemented 100 per cent automated clearance for all motorcyclists at the land checkpoints. 

(b)   Following successful proof-of-concept trials, ICA and the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) are now working to introduce automated in-car clearance for car travellers. Travellers will remain seated in the car and self-scan their passport and biometrics to verify their identity. 

(c)   With automated clearance, we expect overall faster and more secure clearance for car travellers. It also reduces the manpower demand, which can be deployed to meet other needs.


22.   Mr Christopher de Souza asked how technology helped tackle domestic and transnational crime, and aid our ground operations. 

23.   We have invested in new technology platforms, such as those that improve incident response. 

(a)   In this regard, the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) has been a game changer for the Home Team, as it provides us with an eye in the sky that supplement ground officers and ground-based cameras. 

(b)   For example, SPF deployed such systems for crowd management at events, including the heartland celebrations of the National Day Parade and year-end countdown in 2022.

(c)   HTX is further pushing the boundaries by trialling a system that can be operated remotely from a centralised command and control centre. This will allow SPF and SCDF commanders to receive visuals of the scene even before our officers arrive, allowing them to better plan their responses. 

24.   Technology has also supported our fight against scams, which are crimes that often have a transnational element. MOS Sun will provide more details in her speech. 


25.   The third ‘P’ is people. Mr de Souza rightly pointed out the challenging manpower situation, which is why we have redesigned our training. 

26.   For example, our built environment is becoming more complex for our firefighting and rescue operations. 

(a)   The redeveloped Field Training Area at the Civil Defence Academy will host new infrastructure and simulators that expand our training scenarios, in an area nearly the size of three football fields. 

(b)   This will be ready in end-2023.

27.   The Home Team must also ensure that we have the specialised talent to enable our use of advanced technology, and Mr Murali asked how HTX has helped. 

(a)   Beyond consolidating capabilities from across the Home Team, HTX has developed deep expertise in areas ranging from biometrics to robotics and automation, that support the Home Team’s unique needs. 

(b)   The partnerships which HTX has forged, both with local research institutions and foreign counterparts, has enabled us to be at the forefront of new technological developments. 

(c)   So that it has enough talent, this year, HTX will be ramping up its recruitment and training of fresh STEM graduates from the universities as well as polytechnics. We will also include experienced professionals from the science, engineering and digital tech sectors. The target is to fill a total of 500 positions. 


28.   Mr Chairman, our stakeholders and the public are ultimately who we serve. Technology has enabled us to enhance the final ‘P’, partnerships that are essential to the Home Team. 

(a)   For example, SCDF’s myResponder app has been key to helping to activate Community First Responders who are members of the public to provide immediate assistance before our officers arrive. 

(b)   There are more than 130,000 Community First Responders today. From 2015 to January this year, they have responded to over 3,000 minor fire cases, 6,000 suspected cardiac arrest cases, and saved more than 40 lives. 

(c)   To better equip these responders to respond to minor fires, SCDF will start a new trial to place one fire extinguisher at the ground floor of every two HDB blocks. When fully implemented over five years, this will benefit 1.1 million HDB households.

29.   Mr Murali also asked about the lessons we have learnt from our transformation journey. 

(a)   One key lesson is that transformation does not just come about by deploying more technology. 

(b)   We must also streamline our processes, train our officers with the relevant skills, and make our partners a part of our transformation.

30.   Mr Chairman, the Home Team transforms its capabilities so that it can continue to respond effectively to a wide range of threats. 

(a)   Some, like terrorist attacks, we hope never to have to respond to. 

(b)   But we must be prepared nonetheless, and realistic exercises are one way we achieve this. 

31.   In March this year, the Home Team will be conducting Exercise Northstar XI, a major ground exercise which will test multi-agency responses to a terrorist attack on Jurong Island. 

(a)   Exercise Northstar will bring together over 300 participants from agencies such as SCDF, SPF, SAF, JTC, and private sector partners.

(b)   This is a valuable opportunity to validate our inter-agency responses and capabilities in a realistic setting. 


32.   Sir, on a completely different track, let me address Mr Pritam Singh’s questions about the selection criteria for new citizens, and whether we consider an applicant’s extent of integration into Singapore society, as the Swiss appear to.

33.   The short answer is “yes”. We certainly consider the ability of an applicant to integrate in Singapore. But unlike the Swiss system, we do not use a naturalisation test or interviews. 

34.   All tests have pitfalls. 

(a)   Sample questions for the Swiss naturalisation test can easily be found online. 

(b)   One can learn the right answers that immigration authorities want to hear, and not actually be integrated with locals. 

(c)   Interviews, if conducted at scale, will also be resource-intensive and uneven in quality. 

(d)   Results are also not conclusive. For example, in 2021, 41 per cent of those with a migrant background felt that they were not perceived as Swiss. This is a survey that was conducted by the Swiss themselves.

35.   Instead, we consider various markers of social integration such as family ties to Singaporeans, length of residency, whether the applicant studied in our national schools or completed National Service. These are assessed together with their economic contributions, qualifications and age.

36.   All applicants must also complete the Singapore Citizenship Journey before being granted citizenship. This programme helps participants better appreciate our history and culture. It was recently refreshed and enhanced, with content co-created with ordinary Singaporeans.

37.   Sir, these measures are by no means perfect. But they have generally served us well. As to Mr Singh’s call to publicise detailed criteria for assessing citizenship applications, let me re-state the key reasons not to do so, which remain valid.

38.   First, detailed criteria can be abused to inflate an undeserving applicant’s chances of success.

(a)   There are applicants who submit false documents just to obtain immigration facilities. 

(b)   This problem will be exacerbated if we publish the detailed criteria, and applicants know exactly what areas they can game. 

(c)   ICA will have a harder time securing the integrity of our process.  

39.   Second, we have unique sensitivities by virtue of history and geography. 

(a)   Today, most of our Permanent Residents (PR) and new Singapore Citizens (SC) come from neighbouring regions – this is unsurprising. 

(b)   We do not reveal our detailed criteria, or disclose country-specific figures on our PR and SC population, as this information could be misinterpreted or misused by others to stir up bilateral and domestic sensitivities.

40.   Mr Singh spoke about a points-based system, and asked why MOM publicises its criteria for assessment of Employment Passes (EP), whereas we do not for PR and SC. 

(a)   The considerations for EP are quite different. They are mainly to supplement our workforce. 

(b)   For most EPs, the stay in Singapore will come to an end. For PRs and SCs, this is far less likely. We must therefore also consider how they impact our demographic make-up and social fabric over the long-term. 

(c)   Because of the permanent nature of PR and SC facilities, the need to guard against gaming is also greater.


41.   Mr Chairman, allow me to now speak in Mandarin. 

42.   主席先生,新加坡被视为世界上最安全的国家之一,这主要归功于民众对内政团队给予高度信任和信心,积极履行公民职责,奉公守法。

43.   但我们不能把新加坡目前享有的和平与安全视为理所当然。内政团队必须保持警惕,未雨绸缪,以应对新出现和不断变化的威胁。 

44.   这包括应对网络危害。我们看到越来越多不法分子利用网上媒介进行大规模诈骗和恶意网络行动。

45.   因此,内政部将在今年推出网络犯罪危害法令,在现有的法律基础上,加强我们应对网络犯罪活动的能力。这包括有权制止或删除涉及煽动暴力等引发现实世界犯罪活动的网上交流和内容。

46.   内政团队也将继续提升能力,并与公众合力维护国家安全。 

(a)   例如,我国目前有超过13万人注册成为社区先遣急救员。如果遇到小型火患和心脏骤停患者,他们可以在民防部队抵达现场之前提供即时的援助。 

(b)   为了让社区先遣急救员更好地协助扑灭小型火患,民防部队将展开试行计划,在每两座组屋底层放置一个灭火器。这项计划将在五年内全面实施,让110万户组屋家庭受惠。 

47.   主席先生,内政团队和公众齐心协力,是新加坡成功应对安全威胁的关键。内政团队将继续尽最大努力,保障新加坡的安全,让人民继续在这里安居乐业。

48.   Thank you, Sir.