More electrical devices bearing the National Environment Agency (NEA) logo have been spotted in Housing Development Board (HDB) residential estates, leading to concerns that Singaporeans are being monitored at all times.
On Monday, Facebook user Steven Steven shared pictures showing an electrical device installed at what looks to be the common corridor of a HDB block. A rectangular metal box can be seen with the NEA logo and the words “GOVERNMENT PROPERTY DO NOT TAMPER!” and “Caution! Electrical Power” emblazoned on it.
The metal box appeared to be connected to a sensor that is strapped to the window ledge, pointing straight at the units of another block directly opposite the block where the electrical device is situated.
Steven seemed to think that the electrical devices had to be smoke sensors that would detect unlawful smoking at common corridors and the like as he captioned the photos “Smoke be careful”.
Concerns that the electrical device may indeed be an elaborate smoke sensor that might detect unlawful smoking began trending on social media, since the photos went viral mere weeks after ruling party MPs raised the issue of banning smoking in one’s own flat.
On the same day, 24 Sept, another Facebook user NurFirman Fish shared more photos of similar electrical devices installed at the ground floor of what appears to be an altogether different housing estate, based on the difference in the color of the blocks in Steven’s pictures and NurFirman’s pictures.
NurFirman said that the devices were spotted at Choa Chu Kang Crescent. The images NurFirman shared show a similar rectangle metal box connected to a camera. The cover of the camera device appears to be placed on top of the metal box:
Slowly .. they're inputting/installing this device thingy (already)Careful my friends of choa Chu kang.Rubbish,Spitting etc.Don't litter.
Unlike Steven, NurFirman seems to think that the sensors are aimed at detecting littering or spitting in public places. He wrote: “Slowly..they’re inputting/installing this device thingy (already) Careful my friends of choa Chu kang. Rubbish,Spitting etc. Don’t litter.”
Litterbugs presently face a composition amount of $300 for a first offence. Court penalties for those convicted for littering are hefty under the Environmental Public Health Act administered by the NEA. Those convicted for littering for the first time face a $2,000 fine while repeat offenders face a $4,000 fine for their second conviction, and $10,000 for their third and subsequent convictions.
As for spitting, those who spit or expel mucous from the nose onto the street or floor which the public has access are liable to pay a fine of up to $1,000 for the first offence, $2,000 for the second offence and $5,000 for the third and subsequent offences, under the Environmental Public Health Act (Chapter 95, Section 113).
Presently, smoking inside one’s HDB apartment is allowed while smoking remains strictly prohibited in common corridors, stairwells, staircase landings and void decks, under the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, which is administered by the NEA. Since June 2016, it has become unlawful to smoke in public parks within residential estates, as well.
It is likely that these devices have been installed to detect unlawful smoking since Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said in Parliament on 10 Sept that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is exploring “the use of thermal cameras to deter indiscriminate smoking”.
The Hong Kah North MP had said: “These cameras are equipped with heat-detection capabilities that can detect smoking activity and can be operated remotely. When deployed, these cameras will be able to capture images of the smoking infringement and facilitate NEA’s investigations.”
NEA further revealed that the cameras will be deployed in residential areas and other areas with “persistent feedback on smoking issues”, including corridors, lift lobbies and staircase landings according to Khor.
While the pan-tilt thermal cameras could potentially detect unlawful smoking and capture hgh definition pictures of the faces of offenders as far as 100m away, NEA has promised that it will ensure that the devices “focus only on the common corridors, lift lobbies or staircase landings as these are smoking prohibited areas”.
Acknowledging concerns about privacy, it added: “Similar to the deployment of our high-rise littering cameras, there are strict protocols governing the viewing of the footage and only authorised NEA staff and the vendor may handle and view the video footage for official purposes. Footage that does not capture any smoking offences will be destroyed after three months.”
It, however, remains unclear whether the electrical devices that have been spotted at the HDB estates are really thermal sensors meant to detect smoking since Khor said on 10 Sept that the NEA is still evaluating the tender submissions from contractors.
The Independent has reached out to the NEA for comment on what the devices are and whether they will be installed across Singapore. We will update this article when we receive a response.