Revealed: Singapore’s vision for biometrics in government

By Medha Basu

Details announced for a crucial pillar in Smart Nation vision.

The Singapore Government has launched an app for citizens to use their fingerprint and facial recognition to access public services, giving an insight into their vision for biometrics enabling seamless government services.

“You can't just depend on your NRIC number and a password; most of us generate very easy hackable passwords and that's not secure,” Minister in charge of Smart Nation, Vivian Balakrishnan has said. “There is an added layer of security because of biometric authentication.”

The app is an upgrade to the government’s SingPass system used to log in to hundreds of government services. Users will no longer need to type out their usernames and passwords for every transaction, although this will continue to remain an option for those who choose it. Users will need to complete a one-time setup with their fingerprint to enable biometrics access on the app.

The app has security features to protect users’ data and prevent unauthorised access to public services. For instance, the app will not grant access to services if it detects potential security breaches and malicious software on users’ smartphones.

This new service is part of a broader move in Singapore to use biometrics across government services. The Central Provident Fund (CPF), which is in charge of social security payments, was the first Singapore government agency to launch biometrics on a mobile app. It redesigned its app to shorten the login process and give users easier access to information on their retirement savings with their biometrics.

Biometrics will continue to expand to other areas as the government implements its plan for a “biometrics system as a service”. The GovTech Agency is creating a central biometrics platform that will require users to register their scans just once with the government. It will trial this first for facial recognition scans.

Crucially, digital banking and healthcare records could in the future be accessed with fingerprints or facial scans. The GovTech agency will offer development kits to both government agencies and the private sector so that their services can connect with the central biometrics platform.

Outside of digital services, biometrics will be widely used for public safety. The government plans to install sensors enabled with facial recognition on 100,000 lampposts across Singapore. These will be used to analyse faces in crowds and support anti-terror operations.

Meanwhile, the island’s airport is testing facial recognition that could help locate lost or delayed travellers in the future. The airport trialled the technology and could have it running in a year’s time, according to Reuters.