MHA wants not just your picture and thumbprint, but also a scan of your iris

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The National Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016 was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today (10 Oct).

The National Registration Act (NRA) was enacted in 1965 for the registration of persons in Singapore, and for the issuance of identity cards and related purposes. It was last amended in 1994.

The current Bill seeks to amend the NRA to enable the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of its operations.

Proposed Amendments to the NRA

The Ministry of Health (MHA) which introduced the Bill proposed 4 key amendments:

  • Collection of Personal Identifiers

ICA currently collects photographs and fingerprints as personal identifiers. These are collected during the National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) registration and re-registration exercises. Besides these personal identifiers the proposed amendments will allow ICA to collect iris images from Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents as an additional identifier, to strengthen identity verification methods.

MHA said that the iris scan is a proven technology. “The collection and identification of iris images are convenient, contactless and non-intrusive,” said MHA.

Adding: “The use of iris scan technology will augment current identity verification methods using photographs and fingerprints. For example, with multi-modal biometrics, ICA can enhance the accuracy of the identification process for more effective and efficient clearance at our checkpoints.”

  • Appointment of Non-ICA Employees as Registration Officers

The proposed amendments will also allow ICA to appoint non-ICA employees as registration officers to perform some registration functions. This will allow ICA to partner other public sector agencies or the private sector to deliver more convenient registration services. For example, the enrolment of personal identifiers (e.g. iris images) can be performed at more locations.

  • Provide ICA Officers with the Powers to Investigate Offences Under the NRA

ICA officers currently do not have powers to investigate offences under the NRA. These functions have been performed by Police officers. The proposed amendments will provide ICA officers the powers to investigate offences under the NRA. This MHA said, will improve ICA’s effectiveness in the administration of the entire spectrum of NRA-related issues, from the issuance of NRIC to the investigation of offences under the NRA.

  • Refuse Registration of Inappropriate Names

ICA respects individuals’ choices when registering their names. The vast majority of registration of names are conducted with no issue. However, from time to time, ICA would receive requests to register names that are inappropriate, such as names that are offensive to other people, or names that may be confusing or misleading (e.g. including titles such as “Professor” or “Sir”). The proposed amendments will allow ICA to refuse the registration of inappropriate names that are against the public interest.

MHA explained that the proposed amendments to the NRA to collect iris images, appoint non-ICA officers as registration officers, provide ICA officers with investigative powers, and refuse registration of inappropriate names, will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of ICA operations.