Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading Speech on the National Registration (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs

Published: 10 November 2016

Madam Speaker, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."




2.    This Bill seeks to strengthen the operational effectiveness and efficiency of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).  It will also allow ICA to provide more convenient registration services to the public, and to enhance security in Singapore. 


Key Amendments


3.    Madam, the key amendments are mainly in four areas, namely:


a. collection of personal identifiers;


b. registration of names;


c. appointment of registration officers; and


d. powers of enforcement and investigation.


Collection of Personal Identifiers


4.    First, the Bill amends the Act to allow ICA to collect more forms of personal identifiers. 


5.    Currently, ICA collects photographs and fingerprints from Singapore Citizens (SCs) and Permanent Residents (PRs) as personal identifiers. These are collected during the National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) registration and re-registration process. 


6.    As technology improves, other forms of personal identifiers may be used to complement existing identifiers.     


7.    Clause 2 of the Bill allows the Minister to set out in the Schedule the types of personal identifiers that may be collected under the Act. These new personal identifiers are restricted to images, measurements or recordings of an external part of a person's body; or measurements or recordings of a person's voice. These personal identifiers will not involve the taking of body samples obtained through invasive means, such as blood samples.  


8.    A new personal identifier we intend to collect are iris images. This has been included in the Schedule, along with photographs and fingerprints currently collected by ICA.   


9.    ICA plans to start collecting iris images from Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents from next year. To ensure that the collection of iris images will be easy and convenient, it will be collected as part of the NRIC registration and re-registration process. Iris images will also be collected as part of the passport application or renewal process.    


10. Iris scan is a proven technology.  It has been in use in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands since the early 2000s. Passport holders from European Union countries can voluntarily enrol their iris images with German and Dutch immigration authorities. Once this is done, immigration clearance to enter these countries through some major airports can be done using iris images. Authorities can verify the identities of these travellers, by comparing their iris images against what had been previously enrolled.   


11. Some other countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have also mandated the collection of iris images from their citizens, to facilitate immigration clearance. UAE mandated collection of iris images from all citizens since 2013. The enrolled iris images are used to verify the identity of citizens when they travel in and out of the country.   


12.  The collection and verification of iris images is similar to taking a photograph.  It is convenient, contactless and non-intrusive and can be completed in seconds.


13. The use of iris scan technology will augment current identity verification methods using photographs and fingerprints.  A person's appearance can change over time.  A person's fingerprints may also wear out over time as he gets older, or if he does a lot of manual work. ICA has received feedback from some travellers who found it difficult to use the automated clearance gates at the checkpoints. Poor fingerprint quality could be a reason. These travellers had to be directed to the manned counters instead.  This has been a source of intrigue, and sometimes even frustration to these travellers, and also to fellow travellers queuing up behind them to use the automated lanes.   


14. The use of iris scan technology can help reduce such problems, by providing an additional avenue for persons to verify their identity. Once implemented, persons can continue to use ICA's automated facilities at the checkpoints, even if their fingerprints may have faded over time.  This will smoothen the immigration clearance process for individuals, and also benefit other travellers, by reducing overall queue times.  The end result is more efficient and effective immigration clearance at our checkpoints. 


Power to refuse registration of certain types of names


15. Madam, the second area of amendments gives ICA the powers to refuse the registration of certain types of names.   


16. Clause 5 sets down the mandatory and discretionary rules concerning the name of a person to be entered into the national register. Clause 16 makes a related amendment to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act (RBDA) concerning the registration of a child's name at birth.  


17.  Most individuals and parents try their best to come up with good and meaningful names for themselves or their children. The vast majority of names are thus registered with no issue.  However, ICA has, from time to time, received requests to register names that are inappropriate. These situations are not common but they happen. Inappropriate names include names that may be impractical, names that may be offensive, or names that may be confusing or misleading.   


18. Clause 5 makes it mandatory for a name to be expressed using the modern English alphabet, though it may include one or more permitted characters gazetted under the new section 9A(2) of the RBDA. Without this, individuals could attempt to register names which are composed of non-English characters or even numerals and punctuation marks. Many people will find it very difficult to pronounce or read these names. They can cause difficulties in identifying the individual which may result in practical inconveniences or even security risks.  


19. The length of a name must also not exceed the character limit of ICA's systems.  The current character limit is already long, at 66 characters.  We have to be practical and impose a limit on the length of names.  Otherwise, names that are too long would be truncated in official documents and could lead to potential misidentification, posing security risks.  


20. In addition to the mandatory rules, the Commissioner is given the discretion to refuse the registration of a name that:


a. Contains anything that represents or resembles a title, a rank or an award (such as "Sir" or "Professor"); or


b. Uses any expression or abbreviation to signify lineage (such as 'bin', 's/o' or 'd/o') which does not correspond to the person's gender in the national register.


21. Such names are misleading and could potentially cause confusion.  


22. The Commissioner is also given the discretion to refuse the registration of names which are obscene or offensive, or contrary to public interest.   


23. The Commissioner will very carefully consider the circumstances of each case, before he exercises his discretionary powers of refusal to register the names.


Appointment of Non-ICA Employees as Registration Officers


24. The third area of amendments makes clear ICA's powers to appoint non-ICA employees as registration officers.


25. Clause 3 of the Bill sets out the classes of persons that the Commissioner can appoint as registration officers for the purposes of the Act, or any particular provision of the Act. These include public officers, employees of public authorities, and employees of prescribed institutions. Prescribed institutions have to be specified by the Minister in the subsidiary legislation, and can include private entities. Only public officers can be appointed as registration officers for the purposes of certain enforcement and investigation related powers under sections 15B, 16, 16B or 16C.  


26. The amendments will allow the Commissioner to appoint non-ICA employees as registration officers for any particular provision for the Act. This will allow ICA to partner other government agencies or private entities to deliver certain registration services more conveniently to the public and at more locations.   


27. ICA will only allow non-ICA employees to perform very specific functions, which will be carefully selected and tightly scoped.  One such registration function is to enrol iris images during the NRIC re-registration process.  Once collected, these images will be directly transmitted and stored on ICA's database. Non-ICA employees will not have access to individual's personal records in ICA's database.    


28. ICA has considerable experience partnering external agencies in this manner, with the necessary safeguards on security and privacy. Currently, ICA already partners SingPost to deliver some services to Singaporeans. These include alternate site collection of identity cards and passports. 


Powers of Enforcement and Investigation

29. Madam, the fourth area of amendments empowers ICA officers with powers of investigation and enforcement under the Act. For example, ICA officers will be empowered to seize suspicious identity cards and to perform related investigations.  


30. Clauses 8, 9 and 10 of the Bill provide registration officers with additional enforcement powers, as well as new powers to investigate offences under the Act. Currently, police officers enforce NRA offences. Providing ICA officers with these powers will serve to improve ICA's effectiveness in the administration of the entire spectrum of NRA-related issues, from the issuance of NRIC to the enforcement and investigation of offences under the NRA.    


31. Clause 8 introduces new sections 15A and 15B. The new section 15A gives registration officers the powers to take possession of any document suspected to be false or invalid, when such a document is produced during registration or alteration of a person's particulars in the national register.


32. The new section 15B gives registration officers and police officers the powers to demand the surrender of a suspicious identity card.  This includes cards that are suspected to have been obtained under false or misleading information; or been used in the commission of offences under the NRA; or been issued or altered by any unauthorised party.  


33. Clause 9 amends section 16 to give registration officers the powers to conduct searches under this Act.  


34. Clause 10 introduces new sections 16A, 16B and 16C. 16A in particular requires registration officers to comply with the Criminal Procedure Code when making arrests. Section 16B gives registration officers powers to investigate offences under the Act. Whereas, section 16C allows for registration officers to initiate criminal proceedings by issuing a notice to the suspected offender to attend court.   


35. Madam Speaker, we have put in place safeguards to prevent misuse of these enforcement and investigation powers. For example the Commissioner cannot appoint registration officers with powers under sections 15B, 16, 16B and 16C (concerning the surrender of identity cards, arrest, search and investigation), unless they are public officers. In addition, we intend to grant such powers only to ICA officers and not to any public officer.


36. The above amendments will serve to improve ICA's effectiveness in the administration of the entire spectrum of NRA-related issues.  




37. Madam, in conclusion, this Bill will enhance ICA's operational effectiveness and efficiency, and allow ICA to deliver better and more convenient registration services. The collection of additional personal identifiers such as iris images will also enhance Singapore's security through strengthening the identification of individuals. 


38. Madam Speaker, I beg to move.


Law and order
Immigration and Checkpoints Security