Published: 12 September 2022
1. Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time.”
2. Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world. In the 2020 Gallup Global Law and Order Report, 97% of Singapore residents feel safe walking alone on the streets at night. This is significantly higher than the global average of 69%.
3. In 2021, Singapore’s overall crime rate was 355 cases per 100,000 population excluding cyber crimes. This is very low compared to other major cities such as Sydney, London and New York.
4. To ensure that Singaporeans continue to enjoy high levels of safety and security, we should ensure that our crime fighting capabilities are cutting-edge, and that Police have access to useful tools to detect and solve crime. One such tool is DNA profiling.
5. In 2002, a 12-year-old schoolgirl was raped but the identity of the suspect could not be established at that time. 12 years later in 2014, a man was arrested for alleged theft and a blood sample was collected from him. Through the DNA profiling of his blood sample, Police discovered that his DNA profile matched the one found at the rape crime scene in 2002. The rapist was then charged and sentenced to 16½ years’ imprisonment and 18 strokes of the cane. This is the usefulness of DNA profiling.
6. This Bill therefore seeks to enhance the Police’s capabilities to solve crime, using DNA evidence.
DNA Profiling is a Useful Forensic Tool for Criminal Investigations
7. In the course of Police investigations, the Police may collect samples at the crime scene. These crime scene samples will be analysed to obtain DNA profiles which will be compared against profiles in the Police’s DNA database. In 2021, the number of matches to DNA profiles derived from crime scene samples was about 800.
8. However, a large proportion of Police’s crime scene samples, approximately 60% of crime scene samples collected between 2017 and 2021, were unmatched when screened against our DNA database. We should expand the Police’s DNA database to bolster their ability to solve crimes.
9. Fingerprints and DNA are unique to an individual, except for identical twins who share the same DNA. Fingerprint matching and DNA profiling can help the Police identify and place a particular individual at the crime scene, or exonerate the individual.
10. Fingerprint matching suffers at times from the inability to lift a complete fingerprint at the crime scene. DNA profiling, on the other hand, is not limited to one source as DNA information may be derived from minute amounts of body samples such as saliva, sweat, or blood droplets.
11. DNA profiling is thus a useful and well-established forensic tool, and is widely used by law enforcement agencies worldwide to solve crimes. According to the INTERPOL Global DNA Profiling Survey, about 70% of the member countries which responded to the survey reported using DNA profiling in police investigations and at least 70 countries have a DNA database. The United Kingdom started to use DNA profiling in criminal investigations in the 1980s and established a national DNA database in 1995.
12. Apart from the rape case in 2002, which I cited earlier, several cases, including cold cases, have been solved, both locally and overseas, through DNA profiling. For instance, between 1986 and 1991, 10 women were killed in Hwaseong, Korea. A man was sentenced to life imprisonment. Almost 30 years later in 2019, through DNA analysis of crime scene samples, Police eventually identified the real killer, and the innocent man was exonerated.
13. DNA profiling is an effective tool to help the Police solve crimes, by identifying possible suspects accurately and quickly, and exonerating the innocent. But the effectiveness of this forensic tool in criminal investigations depends, in large part, on the size of the Police’s DNA database. A larger database means a higher chance of obtaining a match. Conversely, a smaller pool of DNA data would be less effective in helping the Police solve crimes.
14. If we want our laws to be enforced effectively, and to continue to enjoy a high level of safety and security in our daily lives, our law enforcement agencies must be provided with as many forensic tools as reasonably possible. We may have Police cameras in many public places today, but they do not cover the scenes of all crimes, for example, if they take place in homes or other private areas. Similarly, other forensic tools which the Police already have, may be able to help solve some but not all the crimes.
15. I will now describe the amendments we are looking to make, to enhance the effectiveness of DNA profiling as a tool to help the Police solve crimes.
Overview of Amendments
16. This Bill amends the Registration of Criminals Act 1949 in the following ways:
a. Expand the scope for the collection of DNA information and other identifying information;
b. Expand the prescribed uses of DNA information;
c. Strengthen the protection of DNA information; and
d. Introduce procedures to allow the removal of information in the databases.
Expand the Scope of Collection of DNA Information and Other Identifying Information
17. First, on expanding the scope of collection of DNA information and other identifying information. “DNA information” is defined in the Act to refer to genetic information derived from the forensic DNA analysis of a body sample. “Identifying information” will be defined to refer to other information that can help identify an individual, including fingerprints, photographs and descriptions of the individual such as sex and age.
Expand Scope of Crimes Eligible for Collection
18. We will expand the scope of crimes eligible for the collection of DNA information and identifying information. Clause 6 repeals and re-enacts Part 3 of the Act to provide for the collection of DNA information and identifying information from individuals involved in two categories of offences – registrable crimes and eligible crimes.
19. Registrable crimes are crimes that are currently included in the First or Second Schedule to the Registration of Criminals Act. These are usually more serious crimes, such as murder, rape, and robbery. An individual who is convicted of a registrable crime will have a criminal record. Today, Police can only take fingerprints and body samples from an individual who is accused of, convicted of, or imprisoned for a registrable crime.
20. Our statistics show that about one in three individuals convicted of a registrable crime between 2017 and 2021, had been previously convicted of a non-registrable crime. If we had been able to collect DNA and identifying information from these individuals when they were convicted of a non-registrable crime, we might have been able to identify them a lot more swiftly, when they later re-offended and committed the registrable crime.
21. Other countries collect DNA information for a far broader scope of offences. For example, South Australia collects DNA information for all imprisonable offences. England collects DNA information for imprisonable offences and some non-imprisonable offences.
22. Therefore, we propose to expand the scope of crimes eligible for the collection of DNA information and identifying information, to include non-registrable crimes which fulfil two criteria – one, they are punishable by imprisonment; and two, they are not compoundable under any written law, unless the offence is specified in the third column of the Fourth Schedule to the Criminal Procedure Code 2010. This will be defined as an “eligible crime” and will be inserted into the Act by Clause 2(d) of the Bill. Eligible crimes are therefore the more serious crimes, and will not include minor offences such as littering and illegal parking. Individuals who commit eligible crimes may have their DNA information and fingerprints taken, but will continue to not have any criminal record as such crimes are not registrable. Examples of eligible crimes include voluntarily causing hurt and affray. We will not collect DNA information and fingerprints from individuals involved in minor offences such as littering and illegal parking.
Allow Collection of DNA Information and Identifying Information from Individuals Arrested, Detained, or Served with a Restriction Order, Under the Internal Security Act
23. We will also expand the scope of collection for persons dealt with under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA). Currently, we can only collect fingerprints from individuals who are arrested or detained under the ISA. We cannot collect their DNA information. We also cannot collect DNA information and fingerprints of those who are not arrested, and are only served with a restriction order.
24. Clause 6 will insert new sections 13 and 22 to allow the collection of DNA information and identifying information from individuals who are arrested, detained, or served with a restriction order, under the ISA.
Allow Any Volunteer to Provide DNA Information and Identifying Information
25. In England, South Australia and Netherlands, any individual can voluntarily provide his body samples for forensic DNA analysis.
26. Clause 6 will insert new sections 14 and 23 to allow any individual to voluntarily provide his DNA information and identifying information to the Police to assist in investigations. Clause 6 will also insert new sections 37 and 38 to specify that volunteers who have provided their information, may apply to the Police to remove their information from the databases at any time, and the Police must do so. We will also make it clear that (a) it is an offence for an individual who refuses, without reasonable excuse, to provide a body sample and introduce (b) a new offence for a parent or guardian of an individual below 16 years of age to withhold consent, without reasonable excuse, for an invasive sample to be taken from the individual.
27. To complement these expanded powers for the collection of DNA information, we will make it clear that any person who unreasonably refuses to provide a body sample – including a blood sample – commits an offence. Generally, a person provides his DNA information through providing a body sample, such as buccal sample, hair sample or a blood sample. Blood samples are generally preferred to other samples, as they are more likely to yield a high quality DNA profile, that can be reliably used to obtain a valid DNA match downstream. More than 99% of the body samples that are taken today are blood samples.
28. How do we take a blood sample? Before taking a blood sample, a DNA officer must ensure that the taking of the blood sample does not endanger the individual and the DNA officer will obtain the consent of the individual. Thereafter, the officer will prick the individual’s fingertip to obtain a small sample of blood. If the individual has a reasonable excuse to refuse the taking of his blood sample, for example, he suffers from a blood disorder such as haemophilia, the Police will not take his blood sample, and will take other body samples from him instead.
29. Currently, if an individual refuses, without reasonable excuse, to allow his fingerprints or a body sample to be taken, he is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month, or both. If he refuses to provide a blood sample, he may be taken before a Magistrate, who may order him to provide the sample. A negative inference may also be drawn against him in court in criminal proceedings.
30. The amended Bill will no longer require the individual to be brought before a Magistrate before he may be liable for an offence. The new section 27 will make it clear that a person who refuses without reasonable excuse, to provide a body sample – including a blood sample – commits an offence.
31. We will also make it an offence for a parent or guardian of an individual under 16 years of age to withhold consent, without reasonable excuse, for an invasive sample to be taken from that individual.
Expand the Prescribed Uses of DNA Information
32. Currently, DNA information stored in the DNA database may be used for a few purposes:
a. Forensic comparison with any other DNA information in the course of police investigations into an offence;
b. Comparison with DNA information in the DNA database established under other Acts;
c. Proceedings for any offence; and
d. Administering the DNA database.
33. Clause 6 inserts a new section 32 to expand the prescribed uses of DNA information to three new categories, that are in the public interest. They are:
a. Investigation or inquiry into a death;
b. Identifying a dead individual; and
c. Identifying an individual in order to provide police assistance to the individual.
34. Next, Clause 10 amends section 13I (which will be renumbered to section 47 by clause 9) to give the Police the discretion to share DNA information of an individual convicted of a registrable crime, with foreign law enforcement agencies for investigations and proceedings, where it is appropriate to do so. Before the information is shared, the foreign law enforcement agency will be required to undertake to safekeep the information, limit the use of the information to the specified purpose, and comply with other conditions imposed by the Police.
Strengthen the Protection of DNA Information and Identifying Information
35. We will legislate safeguards to protect the DNA information and identifying information stored in the databases. Access to the DNA database will be restricted to authorised officers. Every access to the database will be recorded, and we will provide for an audit trail.
36. Clause 12 will amend section 14A (which will be renumbered to section 49 by clause 9) to empower the Minister to make rules to introduce safeguards that the Registrar must implement to protect the information recorded in the databases against any loss, modification, or unauthorised access.
Introduce Procedures to Allow the Removal of DNA and Identifying Information Recorded in the Databases
37. Where investigations reveal that a suspect is not involved in the commission of the crime, or where the suspect was arrested and detained under the ISA and investigations subsequently reveal that he had not acted in a manner prejudicial to the security of Singapore, his DNA information and fingerprints will continue to be automatically removed.
38. Individuals who are acquitted or given a discharge amounting to an acquittal by the Court and individuals who have their offences compounded, can apply to the Registrar for their information to be removed. Upon the individual’s application, the Registrar will remove all DNA information and identifying information of the individual from the databases, unless it is relevant for any ongoing prosecution or investigation, or it is in the interests of the security of Singapore to retain the information. Any person who disagrees with the decision of the Registrar may appeal to a Reviewing Tribunal.
39. The above is provided for in the new Part 6, which introduces procedures to allow individuals to apply to the Registrar to remove their registrable particulars, identifying information, and DNA information, from the databases. This new Part 7 provides for the establishment of Reviewing Tribunals and for appeals against the Registrar’s determination to be made to the Tribunal.
40. The application and appeal process is straightforward and simple.
a. The individual may apply to the Registrar of Criminals to request for his information to be removed from the databases.
b. Within 30 days of the application, the Registrar determines whether any of the following two grounds exist. One, the applicant’s information is relevant to another ongoing prosecution or investigation. Or two, retaining the applicant’s information is in the interests of the security of Singapore.
c. If none of these grounds exist, the Registrar will remove the applicant’s information from the databases, and notify the applicant that his application is successful, and that the information has been removed.
d. If any of the grounds exists, the Registrar will notify the applicant that his application is unsuccessful. The Registrar will state the ground for the rejection and the applicant may decide if he wishes to appeal to the Reviewing Tribunal.
e. If the applicant wishes to appeal to the Tribunal, he must do so within 30 days from the date of the notice of the Registrar’s determination. The Reviewing Tribunal comprises a District Judge or Magistrate, who is appointed by the President on the advice of the Cabinet.
f. The Reviewing Tribunal can either confirm or revoke the decision appealed against. However, the Tribunal must dismiss an appeal if the Registrar presents a certificate issued by the Minister, certifying that the applicant’s information was taken in relation to an offence under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021 or the Internal Security Act, and that it is in the interests of the security of Singapore to retain his information.
41. Mr Speaker Sir, in Mandarin, please.
47. In sum, the proposed amendments to the Registration of Criminals Act will enable law enforcement agencies to carry out their duties more effectively, to ensure the safety and security of Singapore, while balancing those expanded powers against individuals’ right to privacy.
48. Speaker, I beg to move.