As biometric use grows, Singapore creates agency focused on the technology

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently announced it will create a science and technology agency that focuses on biometrics as use of the technology grows rapidly in the country.

Singapore is all about biometrics. The country is testing facial recognition for prison inmate management (to replace manual muster checks, among other things). It also plans to use fingerprints to help first responders identify patients faster and reduce errors. And if you’re looking to buy something from a vending machine in Singapore, you can sign up to use facial recognition or palm print technology to complete your payment.

But that’s not enough for Singapore. The government recently said it wants to expand the use of biometrics even further to provide security against terrorism, in addition to other uses. Later this year, a BioScreen-Multi Modal Biometrics System that includes face and iris recognition will be implemented by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. The goal is to make the immigration process more efficient and secure.

At least for now, the global economy remains strong, and that means more people are traveling, creating a challenge at borders. And Singapore has one seriously busy border. MHA says it saw more than 212 million travelers and 10 million consignments, containers and parcels cross its checkpoints in 2018. By 2025, that number is expected to increase by 40 percent and 70 percent, respectively, according to Channel News Asia. Biometrics and other technologies can help government workers manage that growing workload while maintaining high security standards.

There’s likely more to come with Singapore’s use of biometrics and technology.  In March, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said science and technology helps MHA keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe “amid a landscape that sees high terrorist threat.” According to MHA’s announcement, the new agency will also help support new technology deployments under consideration such as video analytics for the police camera network that provides video feeds to the Police Operations Command Centre, digitization of forensic data, using robots to fight fires and using unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance or search-and-rescue operations.

Of course, many countries are dedicating more funds to technologies that can help keep citizens safe and secure (for example,  U.S. Customs is using facial recognition technology to identify people arriving in the U.S. with false documents). But devoting an entire agency to the cause is another story. In short, it demonstrates how important a role technology and biometrics play in Singapore.

Teo explained that forming the new agency is necessary. To further use technology,  a dedicated agency must be formed to further develop the Home Team’s science and technology capabilities. Forensics, biometrics and surveillance will become “increasingly critical” to safeguarding Singapore, and the ministry “must stay ahead” in these areas, Teo explained. Many of these capabilities are also “unique to the Home Team” and, like other countries, they need scientists and engineers of their own, she added, according to Channel News Asia.

In Singapore, technology and biometrics are changing how the government is set up, how it interacts with citizens and how it keeps people safe. In that respect, Singapore could be a model for how other countries could use biometrics.

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