Singapore to record iris scans of citizens

Singapore's immigration department will begin collecting iris images of citizens and permanent residents as an additional personal identifier, which is aimed at improving the efficiency of its operations.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Starting January 1 next year, Singapore will begin including iris scans as part of the country's registration process for citizens and permanent residents.

This was part of efforts to improve the "effectiveness and efficiency" of operations undertaken by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement Wednesday.

The ministry said amendments to the country's National Registration Act (NRA), enacted in 1965, had been passed in parliament to facilitate the move, and would take effect in January. The act facilitates the registration of citizens and permanent residents in Singapore, which encompasses the issue of national identity cards and other associated purposes.

ICA would begin collecting iris images as another identifier, in addition to photographs and fingerprints, the ministry said, adding that this also would be carried out for re-registration of identity cards as well as passport application and renewals.

To further facilitate the collection of iris images, selected SingPost employees would be appointed as registration officers, enabling them to enrol these scans at selected SingPost outlets.

In a November 10 parliamentary speech, senior minister of state for home affairs Desmond Lee said the NRA amendments would allow ICA to deliver more convenient registration services for the public as well as improve security in Singapore.

Lee said technological advancements had pave the way for other personal identifiers, apart from photographs and fingerprints, to be collected. Noting that iris scan was a proven technology, he said nations such as Germany and the Netherlands had been using the technology since the early 2000s. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates also had made the collection of iris images from their citizens mandatory to facilitate immigration clearance.

"The collection and verification of iris images is similar to taking a photograph. It is convenient, contactless and non-intrusive and can be completed in seconds," he said.

He added that iris scan technology augmented Singapore's use of photographs and fingerprints as identity verification methods, noting that fingerprints could wear out as a person aged and appearance could alter over time.

According to Lee, poor fingerprint quality had been cited as a reason some travellers faced difficulty using automated clearance gates at immigration checkpoints.

"The use of iris scan technology can help reduce such problems by providing an additional avenue for persons to verify their identity," he said, adding that the collection of additional personal identifiers would improve Singapore's security.

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