March 7, 2021

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MHA Singapore passes new science and tech bill

A new bill has been passed for the development of science and tech in Singapore. The Home Team Science and Technology Agency Bill consists of the establishment of the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), by December this year.

HTX will be focused on developing ways of fighting the manifesting threats faced by agencies under the Home Affairs.

Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said this in her speech during the passing of the bill.

She added that with the advancement of technology, threats are arising and evolving. Mrs Teo quoted the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) which said that the spending towards fighting cybercrime is as high as US$600 billion annually.

The establishment of HTX will work towards using science and tech to develop ways to overcome evolving challenges. Mrs Teo said that this agency will be highly focused on ensuring that the investments will produce optimal outcomes.

“HTX will build cutting-edge and transformative capabilities that will augment the Home Team far beyond our 27,000 regular and 54,000 NS and volunteer officers,” she said.

Plans in mind

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) had implemented a New Clearance Concept (NCC).

Mrs Teo said that the current procedure of employing big teams of officers to be physically stationed at checkpoints and to manually regulate the clearance of travellers will soon be obsolete.

She said that the NCC surrounds the idea of citizens seamlessly clearing immigrations checkpoints, without having to display their passports. Visitors and tourists will be self-cleared at automated immigration checkpoints.

This concept can be made possible with using a combination of technologies. These include:

  • Biometric solutions which will retrieve a person’s biometric information with high precision
  • Devices, such as cameras, installed with smart sensors
  • Data science
  • Artificial Intelligence algorithms for analysing information from different sources

Other areas set for innovative developments would be the use of data analytics for managing emergency calls.

Almost 200,000 emergency calls are received each year and the implementation of AI tech will be useful in efficiently recognising speech and for transcribing and logging calls. This method will ensure time-efficiency by cutting short the time taken for processing these calls.

As part of the new bill, HTX will support the establishment of a Home Team Operations Centre which will be centred on housing all operation centres under it.

Mrs Teo said that HTX will be established as a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and will be located on its site.

It will comprise of approximately 1,300 officers across different Home Team departments. It will also engage scientists and engineers for specific positions.

Concerns

Some concerns that were laid out by other Members of Parliament were the extensive use of data.

Recent security breaches have raised concerns amongst people of the possession of their data by the Government due to the potential risks of cyber-attacks.

Mrs Teo said that data collection will be done by the respective agencies under Home Team. HTX officers will most likely be not involved in this.

But she said that they will instead be involved in protecting Home Team’s IT systems and the data contained in them. MHA’s Security Operations Centre will be overlooking this and monitoring the system’s behaviour to catch any attempts of network break-ins.

Other concerns included the question on the need for HTX, on top of other existing agencies of similar focus, such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA).

Mrs Teo reiterated that HTX will defer in its purpose of focusing on developing unique and innovative methods such as top-end research in advancing forensic analysis of suspected drug compounds.

This will significantly propel the ability of the police force in finding leads for its investigations.

She added that HTX will also focus on finding ways of detecting and handling chemical, biological and radiological materials.

It will work closely with other government agencies to create sensor systems which can easily identify and react to these dangerous materials.

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