(Delivered in Parliament on 29 February 2016)
I am generally supportive of the Bill.
However, I wish to raise some concerns about Clause 4, which relates to the furnishing information on our Register of Criminals to foreign law enforcement agencies.
We can certainly agree about the importance of sharing of information with foreign law enforcement agencies to prevent and solve crimes, just as we would value their sharing of information with us. To this end, Clause 4 enables a Singapore Designated Authority to share with a foreign law enforcement agency information about an individual recorded on our Register of Criminals.
I have noted that Clause 4 details safeguards that the Singapore Designated Authority should adhere to before deciding to release any information to the foreign law enforcement agency. Such safeguards include requiring the foreign agency to give an undertaking in relation to the retention, use and destruction of the register information. The foreign agency must also undertake that information received from Singapore will be kept and maintained using such methods and technologies that will ensure that unauthorized persons cannot access the information, and undertake that the information will not be used for ulterior purposes.
It all sounds very good on paper. My question is: to what extent will we exercise due diligence to verify whether the foreign agency requesting the information is able to fulfil the conditions we have set, before we furnish the information requested?
According to the proposed Section 13I (4)(6), the government intends to be able to share information with potentially all countries in the world, since it defines “foreign law enforcement agency” very broadly. “Foreign law enforcement agency” is defined to include agencies in countries that are members of INTERPOL, as well as those that are not. INTERPOL itself consists of 190 member countries, practically all nations on earth.
There is a vast disparity worldwide in the effectiveness of governments, the strength of a country’s institutions and state agencies, and levels of corruption. How will the government go about ascertaining whether a requesting country can fulfil the obligations we expect of them under the Bill? Earlier in his Second Reading speech, Senior Minister of State mentioned that INTERPOL rules will apply, but how do we know that the receiving country can fulfil the rules they have signed up to? Will we take their word for it, or will more be done to ascertain for ourselves? I note that under the new Section 13I(3), the government foresees that receiving countries may breach the undertakings, and that is worrying.
On a related note, the international co-operation envisaged by this Bill will touch on our regional responsibility as a member state of ASEAN. In line with greater ASEAN integration, there have been discussions among ASEAN country Ministers about the need for co-operation to combat transnational crime. Transnational crime in ASEAN is understood to refer to drug trafficking, terrorism, economic crimes, human trafficking, money laundering, piracy, weapon smuggling and cybercrime, and since 2015 includes illicit trafficking of wildlife and timber, and people smuggling. Last year, Singapore signed up to the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Combating Transnational Crime, which calls for a new ASEAN Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime and greater information sharing.
With this backdrop, I would presume that if a request for register information comes from an ASEAN country, it would be contrary to ASEAN integration to reject the request. Given the different stages of development among ASEAN countries and each countries’ institutions, what has been done or is being done to ensure that ASEAN countries can indeed share crime information with each other, with the confidence that the information will be safeguarded and not abused?