Singapore’s facial recognition programme raises privacy concerns

Facial recognition at a kiosk in Singapore, a system not everybody is comfortable with

The Singapore government, which is currently rolling out a new facial recognition programme as part of the city state’s National Digital Identity scheme, has come under fire for potentially violating privacy rights and open avenues for abuse of the system.

Singapore in September announced it will become the first country globally to use facial verification in its national ID scheme as a biometric check which will give Singaporeans access to more than 500 public and private services, including tax returns, application for public housing and online banking, to name a few.

Labeled SingPass Face Verification, the new feature allows users to log in to their respective accounts without the need to remember passwords, and it is meant to be used at public kiosks and on home computers, tablets and mobile phones.

Part of the Smart Nation Initiative

The rollout is part of the government’s $1.75 billion Smart Nation initiative, launched in 2014, under which the country has revamped its online government services, such as providing access to open data, adding interconnected lampposts with sensors and introducing cashless payment systems.

However, privacy advocates said they are alarmed by what they say is an intrusive system vulnerable to abuse. For example, Indulekshmi Rajeswari, a Singaporean privacy lawyer, said the government has not yet clearly explained the benefits of facial recognition, noting that the government is exempt from data privacy laws.

“Even if we say that rogue government employees are not the problem, I can think of a lot of problems where the whole of the government will find ways to legally misuse the technology to surveil their citizens,” she said.

Facial recognition leaves “opportunities for exploitation,” says critic

Another critic, Tom Fisher, a researcher at UK-based data protection agency Privacy International, told AFP that the facial recognition technology was “far from benign,” adding that systems like the one planned for Singapore left “opportunities for exploitation,” such as use of data to track and profile people.

Others pointed out that facial recognition can be used to identify individuals in a crowd, a technology which is already in place in a number of countries and for critics means an invasion into people’s privacy, while some argue that not so advanced facial recognition system could potentially be outwitted with a photograph, a video or a deepfake.

The Singapore government’s technology agency, GovTech, as a response has said that data collected from facial recognition was “purpose-driven,” meaning that it is collected only for a particular transaction and that the picture data stored on secured government servers would be deleted after 30 days.

It also said that no personal data would be shared with the private sector, and that the system included some features to prevent people from trying to hack the technology. Moreover, a person’s consent would be sought before applying facial recognition.

However, privacy advocates contend that consent was a low threshold when dealing with sensitive biometric data.

“Consent does not work when there is an imbalance of power between controllers and data subjects, such as the one observed in citizen-state relationships,” said Ioannis Kouvakas, a legal officer with Privacy International.



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Facial recognition at a kiosk in Singapore, a system not everybody is comfortable with The Singapore government, which is currently rolling out a new facial recognition programme as part of the city state's National Digital Identity scheme, has come under fire for potentially violating privacy rights and open avenues for abuse of the system. Singapore in September announced it will become the first country globally to use facial verification in its national ID scheme as a biometric check which will give Singaporeans access to more than 500 public and private services, including tax returns, application for public housing and online...

Facial recognition at a kiosk in Singapore, a system not everybody is comfortable with

The Singapore government, which is currently rolling out a new facial recognition programme as part of the city state’s National Digital Identity scheme, has come under fire for potentially violating privacy rights and open avenues for abuse of the system.

Singapore in September announced it will become the first country globally to use facial verification in its national ID scheme as a biometric check which will give Singaporeans access to more than 500 public and private services, including tax returns, application for public housing and online banking, to name a few.

Labeled SingPass Face Verification, the new feature allows users to log in to their respective accounts without the need to remember passwords, and it is meant to be used at public kiosks and on home computers, tablets and mobile phones.

Part of the Smart Nation Initiative

The rollout is part of the government’s $1.75 billion Smart Nation initiative, launched in 2014, under which the country has revamped its online government services, such as providing access to open data, adding interconnected lampposts with sensors and introducing cashless payment systems.

However, privacy advocates said they are alarmed by what they say is an intrusive system vulnerable to abuse. For example, Indulekshmi Rajeswari, a Singaporean privacy lawyer, said the government has not yet clearly explained the benefits of facial recognition, noting that the government is exempt from data privacy laws.

“Even if we say that rogue government employees are not the problem, I can think of a lot of problems where the whole of the government will find ways to legally misuse the technology to surveil their citizens,” she said.

Facial recognition leaves “opportunities for exploitation,” says critic

Another critic, Tom Fisher, a researcher at UK-based data protection agency Privacy International, told AFP that the facial recognition technology was “far from benign,” adding that systems like the one planned for Singapore left “opportunities for exploitation,” such as use of data to track and profile people.

Others pointed out that facial recognition can be used to identify individuals in a crowd, a technology which is already in place in a number of countries and for critics means an invasion into people’s privacy, while some argue that not so advanced facial recognition system could potentially be outwitted with a photograph, a video or a deepfake.

The Singapore government’s technology agency, GovTech, as a response has said that data collected from facial recognition was “purpose-driven,” meaning that it is collected only for a particular transaction and that the picture data stored on secured government servers would be deleted after 30 days.

It also said that no personal data would be shared with the private sector, and that the system included some features to prevent people from trying to hack the technology. Moreover, a person’s consent would be sought before applying facial recognition.

However, privacy advocates contend that consent was a low threshold when dealing with sensitive biometric data.

“Consent does not work when there is an imbalance of power between controllers and data subjects, such as the one observed in citizen-state relationships,” said Ioannis Kouvakas, a legal officer with Privacy International.



Support ASEAN news

Investvine has been a consistent voice in ASEAN news for more than a decade. From breaking news to exclusive interviews with key ASEAN leaders, we have brought you factual and engaging reports – the stories that matter, free of charge.

Like many news organisations, we are striving to survive in an age of reduced advertising and biased journalism. Our mission is to rise above today’s challenges and chart tomorrow’s world with clear, dependable reporting.

Support us now with a donation of your choosing. Your contribution will help us shine a light on important ASEAN stories, reach more people and lift the manifold voices of this dynamic, influential region.

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $10.00

 

 

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