Published: 29 February 2016
1. Mdm Speaker, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time".
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION KEY TO FIGHTING TRANSNATIONAL CRIME AND TERRORISM
2. Transnational organised crime and terrorism continue to pose a growing threat across the globe. According to international organisations such as the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime and INTERPOL, organised criminal networks are expanding and diversifying their activities. Recent terrorist incidents such as the Paris attacks have also shown how attackers have been able to plan attacks from abroad and cross borders to carry out their activities.
3. As a global financial and transport hub, Singapore is a potential target for organised crime and terrorist groups and a possible conduit for their activities. In order to tackle this trend more effectively, governments and law enforcement agencies around the world need to cooperate more closely and intensively.
4. The exchange of information is essential to our international cooperation, crime control and border security efforts. Having access to information such as photographs, fingerprints and criminal records aids our law enforcement agencies in investigations.
5. For example, fingerprints lifted from a crime scene in Singapore can be compared against fingerprint records held by a foreign law enforcement agency to identify foreign suspects. Information on the criminal background of an individual also helps investigations, allows law enforcement agencies to identify recalcitrant offenders, and facilitates the detection of suspicious persons at border checkpoints.
6. For our law enforcement agencies to ask for and receive such information from our foreign counterparts for the purpose of investigating transnational crime in Singapore, we must be able to reciprocate and share such information in return. This requirement for reciprocity is a long established and internationally accepted principle.
THE NEED FOR THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS
7. Mdm Speaker, we have made steady strides to enhance our ability to cooperate with international partners.
8. For example, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act enables us to provide a range of assistance to other countries on criminal matters. This was amended in 2014 to simplify the conditions which must be satisfied before mutual legal assistance can be rendered, and expand the range of offences in respect of which mutual legal assistance may be given or received under that Act.
9. Our law enforcement agencies also have longstanding arrangements to render assistance to their foreign counterparts at a Police-to-Police level for investigation purposes. This includes the regular exchange of information such as criminal records and relevant identifying information with other law enforcement agencies. This is a common and well established practice among law enforcement agencies around the world. For instance, as a member of INTERPOL, Singapore exchanges information with INTERPOL member countries in accordance with established INTERPOL rules which serve to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the transmitted data. However, in the absence of express legislation, such sharing is heavily circumscribed. For instance, the information cannot be adduced as evidence in Court, or used for any other purposes besides investigation.
10. MHA therefore proposes to amend the RCA to expressly allow a Singapore designated authority to share such information with foreign law enforcement agencies, on a reciprocal basis, that is, the foreign agencies must be prepared to share similar information with our agencies on the same terms. The transmission of information will be subject to stringent safeguards.
11. This will also enable us to implement the Preventing and Combating Serious Crime Agreement with the United States of America (U.S.) by allowing information-sharing between both Governments for the prevention and combating of serious crimes, such as transnational organised crime and terrorism. The implementation of the agreement enables us to continue to participate in the U.S. Visa-Waiver Programme, which allows Singaporeans to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business without the need for a visa.
12. Mdm Speaker, let me now highlight the main provisions of the Bill.
SHARING INFORMATION FROM THE REGISTER OF CRIMINALS WITH FOREIGN LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
13. The Bill introduces a new section 13I to allow a Singapore designated authority, namely, the Head of the Criminal Records Office, to share information about an individual that is kept on the criminal register with a foreign law enforcement agency, so long as stringent safeguards relating to the retention, use and destruction of the register information are secured through an undertaking given by the foreign law enforcement agency.
14. This is similar to the practices of foreign jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
15. What can be shared?: These would include information such as the fingerprints and photographs of any person (also includes: name, gender, nationality, place of birth, particulars of conviction and sentence) who is convicted of a crime by a court in Singapore. Such person's conviction in the register must also not have been spent or treated as spent under the RCA.
16. What are the safeguards that will be put in place to prevent the wrongful disclosure and abuse of the information?
17. First, sharing will only be permitted for certain specified purposes. Under Section 13I, register information will only be shared with a foreign law enforcement agency if the information is requested for the purpose of comparing information transmitted and identifying matches for investigation in certain matters or for proceedings in respect of those matters, or for deciding whether to make a request under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act or a requisition under the Extradition Act, or for a purpose prescribed by rules made under the RCA.
18. Second, the foreign law enforcement agency will need to give us an appropriate undertaking in relation to the retention, use and destruction of the register information, in order to assure us that the confidentiality of information shared will be adequately protected. The foreign law enforcement agency must also comply with conditions prescribed for transmission of register information, and any other conditions that the Singapore designated authority may impose in relation to the transmission. For instance, if a foreign authority has breached certain conditions in the previous undertaking, Singapore may impose additional procedures to prevent similar occurrences.
19. Third, we will not share the information requested for, if it is contrary to Singapore's public interest, or may prejudice any criminal investigation or criminal proceedings in a Singapore court, or the safety of any person in Singapore.
TAKING REGISTRABLE PARTICULARS AND BODY SAMPLES OF PERSONS WHILST ON BAIL
20. Mdm Speaker, besides facilitating information sharing, the Bill will also strengthen operational procedures for the collection of particulars to be recorded in the Register of Criminals.
21. To aid investigations, the RCA currently provides for the taking of registrable particulars, such as fingerprints, and of body samples of a person accused of a crime but only when he is under arrest. The period for which such person may be detained in custody without a Magistrate's authority cannot exceed 48 hours.
22. The Bill amends sections 8 and 13B(1) to allow our law enforcement agencies to take the person's registrable particulars and body samples after the person has been released on bail or personal bond, whether by a court or otherwise.
23. This is necessary because there are some situations where law enforcement agencies will not have the opportunity to take these fingerprints and body samples within 48 hours after arrest. Such a scenario could arise during mass arrests, or if an arrested person is warded in hospital for up to 48 hours or longer. Under Section 68 of the Criminal Procedure Code, police officers are not permitted to detain a person in custody who has been arrested, without a warrant, longer than 48 hours.
24. This also aligns the position in Singapore with that in foreign jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, where the Police may register a person while he is on bail if –
25. Mdm Speaker, with the increasingly transnational nature of crime and with the growing number of terrorist attacks around the world, the need for enhanced international criminal cooperation is more critical than ever before. The enhanced RCA will allow the Police to better cooperate with the international community to prevent, detect and prosecute transnational crime.
26. Mdm Speaker, I beg to move.