Published: 04 August 2023
Home Team Colleagues
Partners, Volunteers, Friends of the Home Team
1. Good morning to all of you.
2. The theme of this year’s National Day is “Onward as One”, which embodies two key messages – “Onward”, for us as Singaporeans to look forward and prepare for the future; and “As One”, the need for inclusivity and unity
3. I will speak about these two messages, and what it means for the Home Team.
Preparing for the Future
4. First, looking towards the future. There are stressors on societies all over the world, such as the rise of populism, inflation – which has been made worse by geopolitical tensions, cost of living concerns, and rising food prices all over the world – including in Singapore too.
5. In the context of moving forward, I will focus on the impact of technology.
6. Technology is double-edged. On one hand, it gives us new opportunities to transform our operations. It allows us to do more, with less manpower. It also helps us enhance our effectiveness. For example, we will expand PolCam coverage from the current 90,000 to over 200,000 cameras over the next few years. The cameras will also have video analytics capabilities, and the improved coverage and capabilities will allow the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to respond to and resolve crime cases even more quickly.
7. But, technology also brings with it many challenges. I will share two important examples – scams, which are affecting us, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
8. In Singapore, scam cases have increased every year for the past five years.
9. Technology has reduced the operating costs for syndicates, and also increased their productivity. They can send out automated messages and make robo-calls to potential victims en masse.
10. Digital banking allows the scammed funds to go automatically through many bank accounts within minutes, before leaving the country. Now, you can see “scam toolkits” being sold on the Internet. Prospective scammers can easily buy “phishing kits”, complete with email templates and contact lists of potential victims.
11. There are many more tools to fool people. Exact replicas of legitimate sites and apps can be created to phish for information. QR codes pretending to be innocent surveys can lead victims to download malware or viruses. Outside of Singapore, scammers use deepfakes and AI-generated voices, to pretend to be victims’ relatives, and trick victims into transferring money to them.
12. But, despite the challenges, the rate of increase in scam cases and amount of monies lost has slowed down.
13. The number of scams had been increasing at an average of about 56.6% per year, from 2018 to 2021. Last year, in 2022, it was 32.6%. The amount of money lost to scams in 2021 was nearly 140% (138%) more than the year before. Last year, in 2022, it was 4.5% more.
14. The Inter-Ministry Committee on Scams (IMCS) led by Minister of State Sun Xueling, comprising the Police, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Monetary Authority of Singapore, and other stakeholders, have worked and are working with telcos to block potential scam calls and SMSes. They have also worked with banks to introduce more safeguards into banking facilities.
15. The Police also set up the Anti-Scam Command last year, in 2022, to bring together expertise in fighting scams across various Police units. Staff from major banks are co-located with the Police at the Anti-Scam Centre, so that they can quickly freeze scam-tainted accounts.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
16. Next, the growth in capability and adoption of AI is another key development that we should closely monitor.
17. With generative AIs like ChatGPT, anyone can create credible, high quality content, including text, audios and videos. No background knowledge or technical expertise is needed. You can just key in a simple prompt in English, no need for any programming language, and the AI will do the rest.
18. We are finding ways to leverage AI in the Home Team. For example, by allowing AI to take on manual and repetitive tasks, our officers can move on to higher-value work.
19. HTX has developed an AI tool called VerText, which will help Home Team officers take notes, summarise long texts, and examine the sentiments of text documents. We hope to deploy VerText in MHA’s Intranet environment, to be usable even for confidential contents.
20. HTX and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) are also trialling the use of AI in the scanning of baggage and cargo at our checkpoints. With this, when anomalies, or dangerous items like firearms, are detected, the AI would flag it to ICA’s Image Analysts, who would then decide whether or not to conduct further inspections.
21. But we are going to need a clear governance framework to adopt AI, and the extent of autonomy given to AI.
22. For example, it has been said that AI can help to eliminate human bias in criminal sentencing and make criminal sentencing more consistent. A number of countries have started experimenting with the use of AI in criminal sentencing. But, criminal sentencing affects one’s life and liberty. I think, for AI to completely replace the human assessment of what the right sentence ought to be, seems, at this point, not the right way to go. You need emotional intelligence and ethics. We need to see how we can incorporate it, but not completely replace the human being in a number of areas.
Inclusivity and Unity
23. The second key message is the importance of inclusivity and unity.
24. There are many potential cracklines and differentiators in society, which people may try to draw lines across, such as race, religion, personal sexuality, among others.
25. I will just touch on one – race.
26. On 9 August 1965, 58 years ago, Mr Lee Kuan Yew made a commitment to all Singaporeans, when he announced Singapore’s separation from Malaysia.
27. He declared that “We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore. Everybody will have his place, equal: language, culture, religion.”
28. This is foundational. It is who we are as a society, and it is fundamental to us, and we will always uphold this.
29. I have spoken about this frequently. No one can say that there is no racism in Singapore or in any society. But, what matters is whether it is institutional, systemic, and what we are doing about it.
30. On the whole, as a system across Singapore and in the Home Team, I would say we have handled it reasonably well, to deal with it, and prevent it from becoming a systemic issue.
31. Many of you would be aware of the recent passing of police officer Uvaraja, and some allegations that were made in a Facebook post.
32. The SPF has put out what it knows at this point, a fair amount of detail. As Police mentioned, we will investigate the issues raised carefully, thoroughly, and very seriously. I have directed that the findings come to me, and we will decide. I will comment more on this in time to come.
33. Our approach is clear and always has been – to take a firm stand against racism, or for that matter, any kind of discrimination, not sweep things under the carpet, and deal with issues directly when they arise.
34. When we talk about moving “Onward as One”, the work that the Home Team does is essential.
35. So, a big thank you to all officers for your service to the Home Team, and for your dedication and commitment to keeping Singapore safe.
36. And to the officers and volunteers who are also receiving awards today, thank you too, and congratulations.
37. Happy 58th National Day to everyone.