S'pore makes steps towards passport-free travel under amended law, travellers' data to be deleted after use

It is unknown which other countries have similar plans for passport-free travel at the moment.

Keyla Supharta | September 19, 2023, 01:26 PM

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While the amended Immigration Act makes passport-free travel possible, physical passports are still likely required by many countries outside of Singapore, said Second Minister for Home Affairs (MHA) Josephine Teo during her closing speech for the amendment to the Immigration Bill in Parliament on Sep. 18.

Physical passports still required by many countries

The bill for amendments to the Immigration Act was introduced by Teo for its first reading in Parliament on Aug. 2, 2023.

It was passed on Sep. 18, 2023.

The new law aims to better enable the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority in digitalising and automating immigration processes and to respond more effectively to new challenges such as pandemics, strengthening border controls against undesirable individuals and allowing more efficient administration of immigration passes and permits issued to foreigners and permanent residents (PRs).

Under the amended Immigration Act, all travellers, including foreign visitors, will not need to provide their passports when departing Singapore from 2024.

However, Teo acknowledged that physical passports are still likely to be required by many countries outside of Singapore, as the country is one of the first few countries to introduce automated passport-free immigration clearance besides Dubai.

She said, currently, Dubai offers passport-free clearance for certain enrolled travellers.

"We do not know exactly which other countries have similar plans," she added.

Reasonable measures to ensure data are protected

In making passport-free travel "more convenient" for the public, Teo assured that the Changi Airport Group (CAG) will take all reasonable measures to ensure that data are protected against unauthorised access.

This includes setting up relevant access controls such as two-factor authentication, regular audits on CAG's compliance and regular checks on CAG's systems by ICA.

While speaking on concerns about whether these data will be shared with other governments or foreign airport operators to "facilitate immigration clearance for Singaporeans abroad", Teo assured that this was not on the cards yet for security reasons.

She said ICA will retain travellers' data only for the period necessary for immigration processing, analytics or investigation.

Once these tasks are completed and ICA no longer needs the data, the data will be depersonalised and properly deleted, she added.

"Premature" to consider steps in sharing biometric information with foreign entities

Workers' Party (WP) MP Gerald Giam pointed out that this suggested sharing Singaporean passengers' biometric data with foreign governments "may be on the cards in the future", seeking further clarification from Teo.

In response to Giam's question, Teo said, "It's really premature for us to consider what steps might make it possible for us to proceed with data sharing of biometric information with other governments or foreign airport operators."

Doing so would require a "secure enough" technology and a "mutual acceptance" of additional safeguards that must be put in place.

Without knowing exactly what these conditions need to be, Teo said she did not want to speculate about what approval might be needed.

"I think it's really too early for us to even contemplate such a step," she added.

Top image via shawnanggg/Unsplash