On the Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Pritam Singh


Mr Speaker, this Bill seeks to enlarge the DNA database at the
disposal of the police by including less serious crimes under its
ambit. Individuals under investigation for both registrable crimes
and less serious eligible crimes are expected to surrender their
DNA to the police. To the extent that this Bill is aimed at cracking
cases and bringing criminals to justice, the Workers’ Party supports
the Bill.

Apart from widening the scope of crimes that requires the surrender
of one’s DNA, the Bill also introduces procedures to allow for the
removal of DNA information from the Police’s DNA database and
strengthens the protection of DNA and non-DNA identifying records.
We also support these procedures.

However, I have concerns about the Bill and will seek clarifications
later in my speech.

Other jurisdictions

In scrutinizing the Bill, the Workers’ Party reviewed the situation in
other jurisdictions to better understand how DNA information is
collected and utilised.

In South Australia for example, the offences covered under the
Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Act 2007 includes all offences
punishable by imprisonment – not dissimilar to our position, but
technically broader than the position taken in today’s Bill which
excludes some offences punishable by imprisonment.

In the United Kingdom, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act,
blood and other “intimate samples” – or what this Bill refers to as
invasive samples – can only be taken with written consent, without
exception. This is a position that is less intrusive upon the rights of
the individual than the one proposed by this Bill.

However, non-intimate samples, which includes hair and swabs that
would allow the collection of DNA, can be taken in the UK without
consent if the person is under investigation for what is called a
‘recordable offence’. This appears to be a broader position than the
one proposed under this Bill, as the meaning of a recordable
offence is very wide, as it includes many offences not punishable by

In Japan, there is no specific statute governing from whom and
under what circumstances DNA may be collected. But the Japanese
authorities have adopted an approach to DNA collection that is one
of the most aggressive in the world. By late 2019, the police in
Japan had collected close to 1.3 million DNA samples, which
covered about 1 in 100 of the Japanese population.

Data released under Japanese information-disclosure laws in late
2019 showed that those alleged to have committed serious crimes
such as murder, burglary and rape accounted for only 4.8 percent of
the DNA database. By contrast, DNA was collected from 210,000
persons suspected of violating the Road Traffic Law, the swords
and firearms control law, the immigration control law and the minor
offense law. This accounted for about 16% of the entire database. I
should add that every DNA sample was collected only after the
suspects gave consent to register their DNA information in the
National Police Agency database.

Our review of other jurisdictions shows that there is no consensus
as to DNA collection. But we can certainly pick out useful points.

Clarifications on the Bill

For Singapore, we need to ensure that our Bill suits our
circumstances and protects our citizens.

To that end, Sir, I seek 4 specific clarifications on the Bill. I will list
them and then elaborate on each.

First, could the Minister elaborate on how the secrecy of the DNA
database will be ensured?

Second, the proposed section 32(h) allows any information in the
DNA database to be used for such purposes as may be prescribed.
Could the Minister clarify whether the Government intends or
foresees the use of DNA information for purposes other than for
police investigations into specific cases? And if not, will the
Government undertake to return to this House to seek
Parliamentary approval if the DNA database is to be used for noninvestigation
related purposes?

Third, could the Minister clarify what factors authorised officers
would take into account in deciding whether to take DNA samples
from those convicted of eligible crimes.

Fourth, could the Minister tell us the cost of taking a DNA sample
from an accused person or convicted person?

Let me elaborate.

Security of the DNA database

First, the security of the DNA database.

Sir, at its core, the surrender of personal DNA is significant. DNA
data is not akin to non-DNA identifying information like fingerprints.
For example, it is possible to use DNA information to create a
profile of an individual, by comparing their DNA data to that a larger
DNA sample size. This cannot be achieved with an existing register
of fingerprints. Our DNA can tell a story or highlight predispositions
that most people would not know about themselves.

For example, certain versions of a gene on the X chromosome that
codes for the monoamine oxidase enzyme (MAO) are associated
with sensation-seeking and impulsive tendencies. Another example
is the Per2 gene which has been linked with advanced sleep phase
syndrome that informs which individual is more predisposed to
going to bed early and rising early, while Per3 is found in night owls.
Both these data points, taken to the extreme, can indicate the
likelihood of possible criminal tendencies. In this era of big data,
artificial intelligence and machine learning, the purposes for which
the DNA information is collected becomes exceedingly important,
something Parliament must scrupulously guard.

Seen in this context, the Bill envisages the surrender of private
information for which the highest levels of security and access must
be assured by the Government. Just a few years ago in 2018, the
personal information of some 1.5m Singaporeans was hacked in
the SingHealth cybersecurity breach, the worst publicly known
cybersecurity incident in Singapore’s history. The Ministry’s press
release on the first reading of this Bill dated 1 Aug last month states
that all persons accessing the DNA database will have to be
screened and authorised by the police with all access logged and
recorded, in addition to a tamper proof audit trail to detect data
modification. Officers who misuse their powers will be dealt with

With reference to the proposed section 49(1A), can the Minister
confirm if DNA database would be stored in a standalone computer
or in systems that are linked to the internet and therefore
susceptible to cyber-attack? How wide is the access to the DNA
database? Finally, have there been any cases within the police
force where existing DNA data on the database has been wrongfully
accessed and misused? What was the range of punishments have
been meted out to such officers? And what recovery procedures
and remedies can citizens whose DNA information has been
compromised or used in a way not sanctioned by legislation avail
themselves to?

Further uses of the DNA database

My second clarification is on the further uses of the DNA database.
With such depth of personal information extractable from DNA data,
Parliament should be apprised of the limits on the use of such data.
Paragraphs (b) to (g) of the proposed section 32 appear to narrow
the remit of the use of DNA information solely for criminal analysis
and investigations.

However, the proposed section 32 (h) is a catch-all clause that
states that DNA information can be used for any purpose that may
be prescribed. Can I invite the Minister to clarify what other uses of
DNA information are being contemplated under paragraph (h)?
For example, and this is certainly not exhaustive, it is not beyond
imagination that this clause could be relied upon to use the DNA
database for purposes of profiling and to draw inferences about
groups of people as being a relatively greater public order threat
compared to others in similar vein as alluded to earlier. If there is no
such intention, can the Minister clarify the ambit of paragraph (h) for
the record? It must be the Government’s position that it would return
to this House should the DNA database be used for any intention
other than police investigations into specific cases. Can the Minister
confirm this to be so?

Factors to be taken into account by authorised officers in
deciding whether to take samples

Let me move to my third clarification. Sir, under the proposed
section 10, an authorised officer I quote “may” unquote take DNA
information but is not required by law to do so. Can the Minister
clarify what is the thinking behind not mandating the taking of DNA
information, but instead giving an option to the authorised officer?
This is especially relevant since the public statements of the
Ministry in justifying this Bill have thus far alluded to expanding the
DNA database. What are the types of cases or scenarios this Bill
conceives of where the authorised officer would need to decide for
or against taking DNA information from an individual, and what is
the basis of those decisions? What consistency will be applied for
the purposes of the proposed section 10 for eligible crimes?

Cost of taking DNA

Fourth and finally, Mr Speaker, as is routine in every Bill that comes
before this House, the explanatory note contains a section titled
‘Expenditure of Public Money’. The note states that “this Bill will
involve the Government in extra financial expenditure, the exact
amount of which cannot at present be ascertained.” This is
understandable because, for example, the exact number of DNA
samples to be collected and processed for eligible crimes cannot be
known at this time. However, it should be possible to know the cost
of taking individual samples, if not a broad estimate based on crime
statistics over the last 5-10 years. Specifically, I would like to ask
how much the taking of each DNA sample from an accused or
convicted person costs the taxpayer today?

Ms Sylvia Lim will speak on other matters for the Minister’s