Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Thumbprint screening for car travellers at Tuas, Woodlands checkpoints as part of trial for BioScreen security system; Automated in-car clearance system on trial at checkpoints

Everyone from age 6 must step out and scan both thumbprints at immigration counters
By Toh Wen Li and Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2017

Car drivers and passengers arriving and departing via the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints have to step out of their vehicles and have both their thumbprints scanned at immigration counters.

The new move, introduced yesterday, is part of a trial to progressively expand the BioScreen security system to motorists, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

The security system, launched in April last year, is already in use in clearance zones at land checkpoints, such as those for train and bus travellers, as well as lorries and vehicles transporting goods.

The scanning of the thumbprints at immigration has to be done by everyone in a car, starting from age six. ICA officers will be present at the BioScreen machines to help people use them.

Assistant Commissioner Chua Sze How, commander at Woodlands Command, said the trial is being implemented progressively. This will give people time to become familiar with the new process, said the ICA.

He added: "The security of the country is of utmost importance to us. However, we will calibrate and adjust our implementation according to prevailing security assessments, and we will monitor the ground situation closely."

Some people had raised concerns online that the system might prove challenging for elderly and disabled passengers. Responding, AC Chua said: "For travellers who require special assistance, our officers will assess each situation and render assistance accordingly."

The Straits Times understands that the authorities hope to eventually roll out an automated car clearance system for Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders that does not require them to step out of their cars.

Property agent Mohammad Burhan, 38, who travels to Johor by car once or twice a week for work, is concerned the new measure may cause more jams at the checkpoints.

Singapore's land checkpoints are among the busiest in the world, with more than 400,000 crossings daily.

The ICA said in a statement: "With the implementation of BioScreen at car counters, travellers may experience slightly longer immigration clearance time."

In seeking people's cooperation, the ICA said security at checkpoints is a top priority, and the BioScreen system plays an important role in enabling it to verify travellers' identities more robustly.

Transport researcher Park Byung Joon of the Singapore University of Social Sciences said there may be some inconvenience for travellers in the beginning, but in the long run, such security features could help save manpower and allow more traffic to be handled at the checkpoints.

* Automated in-car clearance system on trial at checkpoints
Use of biometrics, facial recognition will boost security, free up officers to focus on more critical tasks, says ICA
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2017

Robotic arms, biometric scanners and facial detection technology may soon greet drivers at Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints as early as next year - if an ongoing trial proves successful.

This new system provides tighter security and frees up officers to focus on more critical tasks, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said yesterday.

For example, officers can focus their checks on travellers posing higher risks, a spokesman added, noting that biometrics technology is also a more reliable way to verify identities.

Called the automated passenger in-car clearance system (APICS), the new model is part of the ICA's move towards self-clearance using biometrics.

If the test is successful, Singapore could be the first country to implement a comprehensive in-car clearance system, the authorities said.

The way APICS works is similar to the current clearance system at airports. Travellers scan their passports before they enter a secure zone to verify their identities using their thumbprints.

Under the new system, drivers will have to step out of their cars to manually scan the passports of everyone in the vehicle.

Motorists then drive into a clearance zone to have their identities verified. A machine extends robotic arms with devices that travellers use to scan their fingerprints and take photographs of themselves. The car is deemed to be cleared when travellers complete the checks and return the devices to the machine.

The trial, which started in July, is scheduled to end by next June, depending on the amount of data collected.

More changes to the system are expected before it is rolled out, said Mr Cheng Wee Kiang, a senior assistant director at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), who is part of the team developing APICS with ICA.

So far, additions include a green light that comes on when travellers successfully complete the checks, and greater flexibility of the robotic arms so that they can be pulled towards drivers.

The trial's success will be judged by APICS' ability to free up officers to be redeployed and its user-friendliness, Mr Cheng said.

But there are restrictions to biometrics that cannot be resolved currently, added Mr Cheng, who reports to the Office of the Chief Science and Technology Officer at the MHA. "There will be exceptions."

Officers will be on standby to clear travellers such as children, whose fingerprints are not fully formed yet.

In the trial, one passport-scanning kiosk is attached to one automated clearance zone at each checkpoint. When APICS is rolled out, one kiosk might serve several zones, requiring fewer officers to be on standby.

Mr Cheng said APICS will aim to clear 25 cars an hour, a specification spelt out in tender documents in 2015. This target, however, does not factor in cases such as contraband items and higher-risk travellers, which can lengthen inspection times.

Mr Cheng expects delays when the system is rolled out. "As with new technologies, it takes a bit of time to get used to," he said.

"It is the first time that we are developing such a system, so we do not have a lot of references. We are still exploring... and trying to cover as much as possible with the trial."

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