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Traffic cam, ERP data to be used to counter terrorism

SINGAPORE — To counter terrorism and serious crime, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will widen its use of available data to include public transport video camera footage and data from the Electronic Road Pricing system, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Wednesday (April 6).

SINGAPORE — To counter terrorism and serious crime, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will widen its use of available data to include public transport video camera footage and data from the Electronic Road Pricing system, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Wednesday (April 6).

These sources contain important data that could be vital to Singapore’s safety and security amid a heightened threat environment, he told Parliament on Wednesday, weeks after announcing plans to roll out more police cameras in areas of high human traffic in the heartlands and other measures to tackle terrorism.

The Government had initially taken the position that some of these data would not be used, but did an about-turn because “in this changed security environment, the Home Team must be able to collect and analyse suspicious travel patterns and respond swiftly and decisively, for our collective security”, said Mr Shanmugam during the Committee of Supply debate for the MHA.

The alternative would be to spend taxpayers’ money to re-do infrastructure to analyse how people move, he added.

Technology today can predict some events happening before they actually happen, based on data collected and analysed, as well as human intervention, Mr Shanmugam said. In an episode like the November attacks across different locations in Paris, data was useful in tracking the movements of perpetrators, to uncover evidence and in other aspects of investigation.

Asked by Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun what safeguards would be in place to prevent an abuse of data, Mr Shanmugam said the authorities would use the data for purposes stated, with guidelines and a framework in place. Individuals who misappropriate data will be dealt with in court. The risk of abuse should not prevent the authorities from tracking data as it would expose the country to an attack and deprive it of tools for investigation, said Mr Shanmugam.

Use of more CCTVs and video analytics would help the Home Team to respond quickly and solve crimes, said security expert Toby Koh, group managing director of Ademco Security Group.

CCTVs are generally a post-event tool and not a prevention tool, so active prevention strategies such as a robust security plan with intrusion detection and access control by property owners would still be needed, said Mr Koh. 

Latest generation face recognition systems may be deployed to track known suspects, while intelligent video systems can effectively detect objects that are left in the field of view, he said. “However, this may result in high levels of alarm activations which will need to be verified.

Analytics can be helpful, but the level of intelligence is limited and human intervention will still be required to make a judgement call.” 

The Home Team will need a new operating model to handle an increased and more complex workload caused by trends such as an ageing population, growing traveller and cargo volumes and the rise in cybercrime, said Mr Shanmugam. 

This means using data analytics to anticipate where safety and security emergencies might take place, and intelligently deploy resources to focus on these hotspots for a faster response time to higher-priority areas. 

Asked by West Coast MP Patrick Tay if the building code here would be amended to mandate security audits and security threat assessments of commercial buildings and premises, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said the Government would take a calibrated and differentiated approach. The MHA already works with owners of sensitive installations like Changi Airport and large projects like the integrated resorts to deploy security measures, but is reviewing laws so that more of such projects will incorporate security measures at the design and construction stage. For soft targets such as hotels, it will engage owners through community platforms. The MHA is also reviewing laws to require organisers of major events to put in place necessary safety and security measures.

MPs including Mr Christopher de Souza, Dr Tan Wu Meng, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Png Eng Huat took part in the debate on Wednesday, raising issues such as handling the demand for the Home Team’s resources, the plight of stateless persons and extending the re-employment of police officers from their current retirement and pensionable ages. 

Ms Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked if the authorities should try to uncover unreported crimes, and Mr Shanmugam said he would task his officers doing a major review of criminal processes and criminal laws to look into the possibility of surveys to examine the level of under-reporting.

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