Published: 12 September 2022
1. Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank the Members for their suggestions and questions, and their support for the Bill.
2. There are five key stages in the collection and handling of DNA information. First, a body sample is collected from the individual. Second, DNA information is extracted from the body sample. Third, the DNA information is stored in a secured database. Next, the DNA information may be used for prescribed purposes. And finally, the DNA information will be removed from the database where necessary, in accordance with the requirements under the law.
Collection of Body Samples
3. First, on the collection of body samples.
4. Mr Melvin Yong, Mr Patrick Tay, and Mr Sharael Taha asked how body samples are extracted from individuals. Typically, the DNA officer will obtain body samples in the form of blood. I have explained that this is because blood samples are more likely to yield a high-quality DNA profile. The DNA officer will sterilise the individual’s fingertip, prick it with a disposable lancet, and collect the blood droplets. In situations where it is not feasible to collect a blood sample, the officer will do a buccal swab, by using a sterile swab to swab the inside of the individual’s cheeks on both sides. However, the chances of obtaining a high-quality DNA profile from buccal swabs are lower.
5. Mr Derrick Goh asked whether the process of collecting blood samples will be authorised and supervised by officers of a minimum rank. All officers who take body samples will be trained. There are standard protocols on the collection process. Providing for further supervisors will take up additional resources, which we do not have.
6. Mr Murali Pillai asked whether an accused who refuses to provide his consent for the taking of a sample would be issued a written notice, warning him of the consequences of not doing so. As part of the procedure to obtain consent, the accused will be asked to sign a form which will state the consequences of refusing to provide consent. This is no different from the practice today.
Eligibility of Offences
7. Ms Denise Phua and Ms Ng Ling Ling sought clarification on whether certain traffic offences are eligible for DNA collection. To reiterate, DNA and identifying information can be collected for two categories of offences - “registrable crimes”, which are crimes currently included in the First and Second Schedule of the RCA, and “eligible crimes” which are non-registrable crimes punishable by imprisonment and not compoundable under any written law, unless the offence is specified in the Fourth Schedule to the Criminal Procedure Code 2010. These offences are generally more serious. The offence of reckless or dangerous driving, under section 64 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, is an “eligible crime” if no death or grievous hurt is caused. As for the offence of driving without due care, under section 65 of the same Act, the offence is a “registrable crime” if death or grievous hurt is caused. This applies for first and repeat offenders. If no death or grievous hurt is caused, the offence of driving without due care is compoundable, and hence Police will not be able to collect the DNA information of offenders.
8. Mr Sharael Taha asked whether the DNA collection provisions apply to persons who are currently serving sentence for “eligible crimes”. The new provisions apply to offences committed after the new law comes into effect.
9. Mr Sharael Taha asked how officers may decide whether to take DNA samples. Police will assess the nature of the crime, the evidence and whether to collect DNA information.
10. On Mr Patrick Tay’s question about the rationale for the expansion of the scope of collection of DNA information, the intent is to enhance the effectiveness of DNA profiling to help Police solve crimes.
11. Mr Melvin Yong asked how the revised DNA collection regime would compare with that of other countries. We have surveyed the approach in foreign jurisdictions. We did not just adopt wholesale the practices of other countries, but where appropriate, adapted it to suit our context. For instance, South Australia collects DNA information for all imprisonable offences, while England collects DNA information for all imprisonable offences and some non-imprisonable offences. We have chosen to expand our collection only to offences that are punishable by imprisonment and not compoundable under any written law, unless the offence is specified in the Fourth Schedule to the Criminal Procedure Code 2010. This strikes the appropriate balance in our local context.
12. Mr Melvin Yong also suggested establishing a National DNA Registry, where the DNA sequence of every Singaporean and resident would be recorded. We thank him for his suggestion. His suggestion will be studied.
13. Mr Sharael Taha raised a concern about whether there are sufficient resources to deal with the increased load in collecting body samples. Resources are an issue. Police will put in place the necessary infrastructure and resources to support the expected increase in load. But it will mean that other areas will be even more stretched.
Safeguards for the Collection of Samples
14. Members also asked about the safeguards for the collection process.
15. Mr Louis Ng, Ms Ng Ling Ling, Ms Denise Phua, and Mr Patrick Tay spoke about young individuals and individuals with special needs. Invasive body samples such as blood samples will only be collected based on consent. This applies to all individuals. If the individual is below 16 years old, the written consent of his parent or guardian has to be obtained.
16. Mr Louis Ng asked how body samples may be taken from young persons, and the checks that will be in place to ensure that such consent is given willingly. Please allow me to clarify two points. First, officers can take any invasive body samples for accused persons below 16 years old with the consent of their parent or guardian. However, non-invasive body samples, such as buccal swabs can be taken without consent. Second, where an individual below 16 years of age is a “volunteer” in the context of the Bill, officers may only take body samples, whether invasive or non-invasive, without his parent or guardian’s consent when three requirements are satisfied. First, the parent or guardian’s consent is refused without good cause or cannot be obtained despite all reasonable efforts. An example of a good cause can be when the volunteer suffers from blood disorders, such as haemophilia, and the taking of his blood sample may endanger him. Second, the volunteer is willing to give the body sample, and third, a Magistrate’s sanction is obtained.
17. Ms Sylvia Lim asked about the rationale for imposing punishment on the parent or guardian who does not give consent for body samples to be taken. Parents and guardians are given the right to decide whether they will give consent on behalf of their children. If they withhold consent without reasonable excuse, it is their decision. The question should be: why are they refusing if there is no reasonable excuse? There should be an onus to give consent – since Police are acting in the public interest.
18. Ms Sylvia Lim asked how we can protect vulnerable persons from being pressured to volunteer. The law provides for voluntary giving of DNA. When people as adults make up their minds to step forward to volunteer, we should encourage it. I think most people will accept that Singaporeans will make up their own minds. As for foreign workers – the fact that they may be concerned about their work permits, does not negate the consent. They make their assessments, and if they have done nothing wrong – there is nothing to be worried about.
19. Ms Denise Phua asked how volunteers will be briefed. As part of the procedure to obtain consent, volunteers will be informed that the DNA information provided will be used for purposes under the RCA, and that they have the option to request for their DNA information to be removed at any point.
20. Mr Louis Ng asked about the use of force to take a non-invasive body sample. A guilty criminal may not consent to provide data for fear of being incriminated and time is often of the essence when solving a crime. We must thus empower our Police officers to use reasonable force to obtain non-invasive samples, such as buccal swabs, in order to solve crimes. In deciding whether to use reasonable force, Police officers will assess the facts and circumstances of each case, including the urgency of the situation. If individuals feel that the force used was disproportionate, they can provide feedback to the Ministry of Home Affairs or lodge a Police report. The Ministry will investigate the complaint, and take action, where warranted.
Extraction of DNA Information
Process of Extraction of DNA Information
21. After the body samples are obtained, the individual’s DNA information will be extracted from the collected sample, profiled using genetic equipment and software, and the resultant DNA profile stored in the DNA Database.
22. Mr Patrick Tay asked if this process is outsourced to private organisations. MHA engages the Health Sciences Authority to administer the DNA Database Laboratory, generate DNA profiles from body samples taken under the RCA, and upload them into the DNA Database. We do not engage private organisations to undertake this.
Safeguards to Prevent Contamination
23. Mr Patrick Tay and Dr Wan Rizal asked about the safeguards to prevent the contamination and mixing up of DNA profiles. First, the DNA sample that is collected is marked with a unique barcode number. After a person has given his body sample, it will be immediately sealed, in his presence. The barcode number will be recorded and the sealed sample is placed into a DNA collection box which will be locked, before being sent to the DNA Database Laboratory for forensic analysis. Thereafter, the sample will be independently processed in duplicate at separate times to ensure the integrity of the DNA profile derived from the sample. The DNA profiles derived from both sets of duplicates are compared for any non-concordance, and only the DNA profile of samples which produce identical profiles from the duplicates will be uploaded into the DNA database. This duplication process eliminates potential errors in the uploading process, such as the wrong DNA profile being uploaded into the database.
Storage of Information
Storage Location and Duration
24. Next, I will talk about the storage of the extracted DNA information and body samples.
25. Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Patrick Tay asked how the body samples and DNA information will be stored. The body samples are stored in the DNA Database Laboratory at Police Cantonment Complex, and the DNA information is stored in the DNA database which is hosted on a standalone, secured network.
26. As for Mr Melvin Yong’s question on why we keep DNA samples after it has been profiled, Police keep the samples for two main reasons. First, to keep pace with technological developments – allowing us to re-profile the samples as technology advances to upkeep the quality of our records. And second, for quality assurance – so that if the information is challenged, it can be re-profiled from the sample.
Safeguards to Protect Information
27. Members have asked questions about the data security measures and given suggestions to protect the sensitive information. Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Derrick Goh, Ms Ng Ling Ling, Mr Sharael Taha, Ms Denise Phua, Mr Patrick Tay and Dr Wan Rizal spoke about this. There are practices in place to protect the DNA information and identifying information stored in the database. Only authorised individuals are allowed to access the DNA database. All access is logged and recorded, through an audit trail, to detect any data modification. The data is stored on a secured network to prevent unauthorised access.
28. There is also a framework in place to manage any Government data incidents. In the event of a data breach, appropriate remedial actions will be taken in accordance with standard operating procedures and workflows. We thank Mr Derrick Goh for his suggestion to strengthen cybersecurity measures. We will continue to review and enhance the security of our systems.
29. Mr Murali Pillai asked why the provisions dealing with the collection of body samples under other Acts were not consolidated under the RCA, and about the safeguards for the databases maintained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act 1955 or “CLTPA” and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973 or “MDA”. There is no need to consolidate the provisions dealing with the collection of body samples under those other Acts in the RCA, as those Acts already have provisions dealing with the collection of body samples.
Uses of Information
Local Uses of Information
30. Next, I will talk about how the DNA information will be used.
31. Mr Patrick Tay asked how the DNA information will be disclosed during prosecution. One example is where the DNA profile extracted from a crime scene sample is matched to DNA information in the database, leading to the identification of a possible suspect. This can be tendered as evidence in Court.
32. Ms Sylvia Lim and Dr Wan Rizal asked about the treatment of partial matches. Generally, a partial match will unlikely be the sole piece of evidence that Police rely upon to identify the perpetrator. Police use a range of investigative tools and leads to solve crime.
33. Mr Patrick Tay asked if the DNA information collected can be shared with other agencies, private organisations or used for civil proceedings. DNA information collected under the RCA can only be used for the purposes specified under the RCA. DNA information collected under the RCA may not be disclosed to private organisations or used in civil proceedings.
Sharing with Foreign LEAs
34. As for sharing with foreign law enforcement agencies, which Mr Derrick Goh, Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Patrick Tay spoke about, we will share particulars or DNA information of persons who have been convicted of a registrable crime for the purposes of foreign investigations or proceedings. Further, the foreign law enforcement agency must comply with the conditions prescribed for the transmission of such information, and any other conditions that the Singapore authority may impose.
35. Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Derrick Goh and Mr Sharael Taha asked about future uses of the information that may be prescribed. This relates to Clause 13F(2)(d) of the current RCA. The clause “for such other purposes as may be prescribed” is not new. It is an existing provision under the current RCA. This provision allows the Ministry to prescribe additional uses for DNA information via subsidiary legislation. And such subsidiary legislation has to be published in the Gazette and presented to Parliament.
Removal of Information
36. Next, I will talk about the removal of information.
Application and Removal Process
37. Mr Murali Pillai, Mr Louis Ng, Ms Denise Phua and Mr Sharael Taha asked about the process to apply for the removal of information. One only has to apply to the Registrar online, with his particulars and case details. The Registrar will review the application and provide an official reply within 30 days. The details of the application process will be made available on SPF’s website in due course.
38. Mr Louis Ng also asked whether individuals would be told that their information is no longer sensitive so that they may re-apply to the Registrar to remove their information from the databases and how the prescribed timelines apply to these individuals. When the Registrar rejects an individual’s application to remove his application from the database, the Registrar will notify the applicant and state the reasons for the rejection. If his data has been retained because there is an ongoing prosecution or investigation, the individual should be aware when these are concluded, such that he may re-apply for expungement. Where his data is retained due to national security concerns, we will not be able to inform him when these concerns no longer exist. If he disagrees with the decision of the Registrar, he can appeal to the Reviewing Tribunal. Even if the Reviewing Tribunal dismisses the appeal, the individual may re-apply for removal at any time.
Policy for Removal
39. Moving on to the removal of information from the database.
40. Mr Murali Pillai asked why we require acquitted accused to apply for their information to be removed. The purpose of the database is to assist in crime-solving. When the acquitted accused applies to have his information removed, we will remove it except under two circumstances. First, where the information is relevant for another ongoing investigation or prosecution; and second, where it is in the interests of the security of Singapore to retain the individual’s data. Subject to that, it is in society’s interests that there is a larger database of DNA – the DNA has to be collected and retained in acceptable ways. That was our rationale. If acquitted persons want their DNA to be removed, they can apply to do so.
41. Mr Derrick Goh asked about the rationale for the default removal of the information of suspects who are found not to be involved in the commission of the crime, while volunteers need to apply for the removal of their information. Upon arrest, suspects would have been compelled to provide their DNA information, and failure to do so without reasonable excuse is an offence. So when we find out later that he is not involved in the crime, it would only be right that we remove his DNA information which we had acquired coercively. On the other hand, volunteers provide their information on a voluntary basis, and hence it is reasonable for their data to remain in the database until they apply to remove it.
42. Mr Louis Ng, Mr Sharael Taha and Mr Patrick Tay asked whether individuals who are granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal or given a stern warning can apply for their information to be removed. These individuals will not be allowed to apply for their information to be removed. An individual granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal has not been granted a full acquittal on the charge, and the Public Prosecutor may still institute proceedings against the accused on the charge. This may occur, for example, where an accused has absconded. Thus, his information should not be removed from the database as it is still required for investigations or prosecution. Persons who are warned are also not equivalent to persons who have been acquitted. They were warned because investigations revealed that they were involved in the commission of the offence, but the Public Prosecutor has decided not to prosecute them in court.
43. Mr Patrick Tay also asked about the retention of information for individuals whose offences have been rendered spent. Individuals who have their offences rendered spent are not equivalent to individuals who are acquitted or discharged. The significance of a spent conviction is that the individual will no longer have a criminal record for the spent offence. This facilitates his rehabilitation and re-integration, by removing stigma associated with a criminal record. On the other hand, his identifying information and DNA information will continue to be retained by the Police, as this information may be vital for solving future crimes.
44. Mr Pritam Singh had asked four questions. His first question was on safeguarding the DNA database and access to it: I had set out in my 2nd Reading speech what the safeguards are. Only authorised individuals are allowed to access the DNA database. All access is logged and recorded, and there will be an audit trail, to detect any data access. The DNA information is stored on a standalone, secured network to prevent unauthorised access. Mr Singh wanted to know what will happen if an officer accesses information without authorisation, under this Bill. When there is unauthorised access, action will be taken. This could include criminal charges being brought. Members would be aware that in the past, officers have been charged in court for unauthorised access or use of information. Most recently, Members may have seen media reports of two former Prisons officers who had been charged for unauthorised use of inmate information. Both were imprisoned. One of the cases was in the news two days ago. If any person feels that his information has been misused, he can lodge a complaint, and the complaint will be investigated. Action will be taken if the complaint is found to be substantiated.
45. Mr Singh’s second question relates to section 13F(2)(d) of the current RCA. The provision “for such other purposes as may be prescribed” is not new. It is an existing provision under the current RCA. This provision allows the Ministry to prescribe additional uses of DNA information via subsidiary legislation. Such subsidiary legislation has to be published in the Gazette and presented to Parliament.
46. Mr Singh’s third question is on how officers may decide whether to take DNA. Officers on the ground, will have to be given the discretion, exercise their judgement, whether to take the DNA for the investigations. It is not possible to prescribe precisely when they should and should not take DNA in future – because there are thousands of different situations. What the law can do is to set out the parameters, the framework, for the exercise of the powers. And that is what we are doing. Police will assess the nature of the crime, the evidence and whether to collect DNA information, even if the offence is registrable or eligible.
47. Mr Singh’s fourth question was to ask for the cost of taking a DNA sample. Police officers perform a variety of duties. It is not possible to ascertain the cost of every individual isolated act. If we wanted to identify the cost, technically one will have to assess the number of officers involved, the time cost based on their salaries and so on, and many other factors, to do this exercise.
48. In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope I have addressed Members' concerns. This Bill will enable our law enforcement agencies to carry out their duties more effectively and to continue to keep Singapore safe and secure. I thank Members for their valuable suggestions and support for this Bill.
49. With that, Madam Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.