Wednesday 20 April 2016

ICA rolls out thumbprint scanners to boost security from 20 Apr 2016

They will be put into use progressively at all land and sea checkpoints, then at air terminals
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2016

Travellers arriving and departing Singapore by sea or land may have their thumbprints scanned at immigration checkpoints from tomorrow, as part of ongoing efforts to boost the country's security levels.

The BioScreen system will be rolled out progressively at passenger halls of all sea and land checkpoints, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) yesterday. This comes after a successful year-long trial at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal that has seen more than 120,000 travellers go through the new system since last April, ICA said.

In the months ahead, BioScreen will also be rolled out at the air checkpoints here, the ICA said.

Those aged six and above who use manned counters at immigration checkpoints will have to scan both their thumbprints upon arrival and departure. This will affect foreign visitors and Singaporeans who opt to go through these counters, but not Singapore citizens and permanent residents who use the automated clearance lanes.

At the Woodlands and Tuas land checkpoints, the initial phase will see the system implemented at the manned counters within passenger halls. BioScreen clearance for motorists will be introduced later.

ICA noted that travellers may experience "slightly longer immigration clearance times" as a result. However, it added that it will "monitor the system closely, and will fine-tune and adjust the implementation plans where necessary".

Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, who is on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, believes the immigration system will be able to "cope well" despite longer clearance times.

"The evolving and escalated global security threat means that a global passenger transit hub such as Singapore must step up its surveillance and protective work," he said.

The United States started scanning fingerprints of all visitors in 2004, in the aftermath of the Sept 11 terror attacks in 2001. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have also introduced fingerprint scans from 2007.

Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, head of policy studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the move "makes sense", given that "Singapore remains an iconic target".

He said: "Biometric technology is a crucial enabling technology that is available now and hence should be exploited, especially since the threat from transnational terrorist groups like ISIS has heightened at this point in time."

ICA's BioScreen system: Thumbs-up for thumbprints
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2016

From today, travellers arriving in and departing from Singapore by sea, land or air may have their thumbprints recorded at immigration checkpoints.

It is part of a concerted effort by the Republic to keep out terrorists by strengthening its borders.

Implementing the BioScreen system will allow the authorities to verify the identity of each traveller and spot potential security risks as early as possible.

The move underscores the Government's longstanding message that no country is immune to terrorist attacks.

Recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels have forced governments and citizens around the world to confront the threat of terrorism at home.

Last month, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam reiterated that it is not a matter of "if" but "when" a terror attack will hit our shores. The arrests in January of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers, who were plotting attacks in their home country from Singapore, were a reminder that radicalisation can take root anywhere.

Singapore is not the first country to leverage biometric technology to beef up security at checkpoints and other key installations.

The United States started scanning fingerprints of all visitors in 2004, in the light of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks. Regionally, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan began doing so in 2007.

More than half a million people pass through the checkpoints here every day, with Woodlands Checkpoint the busiest land checkpoint in the world.

Also, annual passenger volume at Changi Airport is projected to grow from its current 50 million to 140 million, when Terminal 5 is completed in 10 years' time.

The BioScreen system will help to enhance national security while Singapore grows as a global hub, without the need to increase the number of security personnel significantly.

It may take longer to go through immigration under the new system, especially in its initial phase. But as more Singaporeans begin to understand that the threat of terrorism is real and near, many will give the system the thumbs-up.

Changi Airport tests new body scanner, machine for hand luggage
New security scanners on trial at T3
Body scanners made less intrusive; no need to pull out laptops from hand luggage
By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2016

New security scanners are being trialled at Changi Airport Terminal 3 to boost security, amid a growing threat of terrorism against aviation.

Travellers departing from boarding gates A16 to A21 at T3 are randomly asked to walk through body scanners, while there is also a new machine to screen hand luggage for those leaving from gates B1 to B4.

With this new machine, travellers do not have to remove laptops, tablets and other devices from their bags for screening unlike now, said Changi Airport Group (CAG) during a media preview yesterday.

Changi is one of only two airports worldwide, the other being Amsterdam's Schiphol, that is testing the technology.

To improve the bag screening process, the machine comes with an automatic tray return system that improves efficiency and reduces waiting times by about 20 per cent for passengers, said CAG's vice-president of aviation security Alan Tan.

Trays are presented to two passengers simultaneously at the start of the screening belt, so both can deposit their bags at the same time.

Bags that are cleared are channelled to one lane, while those that need to be manually checked are diverted to another.

The trays are automatically returned to the line after each screening cycle is completed, so security officers do not need to manually return them to the start of the line.

Said Mr Tan: "More often than not, enhancements in security checks increase inconvenience for travellers but here, we are able to make the system more robust while reducing hassle for travellers."

Meanwhile, the new body scanner is the latest to be tested after three earlier trials by Changi.

Not many airports - apart from those in the United States, Europe and Australia - have introduced the machines, due to issues such as privacy concerns and potential health risks.

To mitigate such worries, the body scanner now being tested at Changi Airport does not detail the actual person's shape, Mr Tan said. If a traveller walks through and no alerts are raised, the monitor turns green and no image is produced.

If an item is detected, a simple outline of a body is generated to indicate where the object is.

The scanner uses millimetre wave technology to detect both metallic and non-metallic items.

The technology has been certified to be safe and poses no known health and safety risks as it utilises a very low-power non-ionising form of electromagnetic technology, CAG said. The amount of electromagnetic radiation emitted is many times smaller than that emitted by a mobile phone, it added.

The trials started last month, and will end in June. Thereafter, data and passenger feedback collected will be analysed to help the airport assess the new systems.

Business analyst Damien Wong, 41, who travels once or twice a year, said: "Security is paramount given the threat levels, so steps taken to make flying safer is a good thing.

"The hand luggage screening method that Changi is testing sounds really good. It's really a hassle having to remove laptops and other devices."

* New fingerprint scanners nab travellers with false IDs
By Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 28 May 2016

A recently implemented fingerprint-scanning system has in the last month led to some travellers trying to enter Singapore using false identities being turned away.

"Since we implemented the BioScreen system, we have detected some passengers trying to enter Singapore with different passports," Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee told reporters at Changi Airport yesterday.

He was visiting a checkpoint at Terminal 3 for an update on the system's implementation. It will eventually be used to verify the identities of all travellers passing through manned counters at the airport before they are granted entry into or allowed to depart from Singapore.

From April 20 to May 19, over half a million people were cleared through the system at land and sea checkpoints and at Changi Airport, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said in a statement. During this period, it also detected individuals who had previous offences, such as immigration offences.

No other details were given.

Someone going through the system would have to place both thumbs on a device at the immigration counter. During Mr Lee's visit, it took passengers 10 to 15 seconds to have their prints scanned.

"Using technology allows us as far as possible to enhance security while ensuring minimum hassle to passengers," Mr Lee said, noting that the threat of a terrorist attack has been at its highest in recent years. He advised people travelling during the busy June holidays to set aside more time for clearing immigration.

The scanning system has progressively been rolled out across land and sea checkpoints from April 20, beginning with manned counters in passenger halls for the Woodlands and Tuas land checkpoints.

It has been operating in Changi Airport since April 27, but the ICA declined to say when the system will be fully up and running at all manned counters.

ICA checkpoint inspector Chua Swee Noi, who works at Changi Airport, said some travellers are a bit impatient at having to wait longer to be processed. They, however, generally accept the need for greater security.

ICA inspector Mohamed Ashik, who also works at Changi Airport, said officers are in place to guide travellers on the proper way to place their thumbs on the scanner to expedite the process. He said the ICA would put more officers on duty during the school holidays, if needed.

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