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     FrontPage Edition: Mon 16 July 2007

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Passports (Amendment) Bill passed


Second Reading Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng on the Passports (Amendment) Bill, 16 July 2007

Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move, ¡°That the Bill be now read a Second time¡±.
Sir, the Singapore passport is well regarded internationally because of its strong reputation as a highly secure document with several anti-tampering features.
The visa-free entry that Singaporeans currently enjoy in many countries and the fact that Singapore remains a member of the US Visa-Waiver Programme attests to the confidence that foreign governments have in the integrity of our passport.
However, as the Singapore passport provides easy visa-free access to many countries, it is also an attractive document for abuse.
Criminal and terrorist elements are known to assume different identities using photo-substituted or fake passports to facilitate their movement between countries.
As recent as late March 2007, ICA had detected foreigners who attempted to use photo-substituted foreign passports to gain illegal entry into 3rd countries.
We should also not forget the case of Hambali, the suspected planner of many terrorist attacks in Indonesia including the October 2002 Bali bombings, who was caught in 2003. He was reported to have used a fake Spanish passport for his travels.
We have been taking and will continue to take the necessary steps to prevent terrorists and other criminals from misusing and abusing the Singapore passport.
On 15 August 2006, we introduced the Singapore Biometric Passport, or BioPass for short. The BioPass, with its enhanced security features, will help ensure that the Singapore passport continues to be regarded as a highly-secure travel document.
To ensure that we have the necessary tools to safeguard the security and integrity of the Singapore passport, we need to update the Passports Act, which has not been amended since 1971, so that it reflects the realities of the current operating environment and remains relevant in today¡¯s context.
Thus, this Bill repeals the existing Act, and re-enacts a new Passports Act which introduces measures against the abuse and misuse of Singapore passports and travel documents, as well as foreign travel documents.
It also sets out a comprehensive regime for the issuance and handling of our passports and travel documents.
Finally, the Bill provides a framework to allow the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to adopt new technologies to enhance the security of Singapore passports and travel documents.
Regularising the Issuance and Handling of Singapore Travel Documents
Lost and Stolen Passports
Sir, while we have been reminding our citizens to take good care of their passports, a small number of Singaporeans still lose or have their passports stolen each year.
In the current security climate, should a passport fall into the wrong hands, the consequences could be very severe. ICA will continue to highlight the importance of safekeeping our passports. Charging a replacement fee for lost passports is one way of doing so.
ICA currently registers the reported loss or theft of Singapore passports in its database, to ensure that they can no longer be used for travel.
However, such passports are not effectively cancelled as the present Act does not provide for cancellation under such circumstances. Clause 21 of the Bill rectifies this by vesting the Controller of Immigration with powers to cancel a Singapore passport immediately once it is reported lost or stolen.
It is important for Singaporeans to promptly report the loss or theft of their passports, as this allows ICA to alert foreign immigration authorities.
Through the sharing of information on lost and stolen passports, we can contribute to curb the abuse of passports worldwide.
Clause 45 of the Bill makes it compulsory for Singaporeans, or a person who has parental responsibility for a Singaporean aged 16 and below, to report the loss or theft of a passport within 14 days when he first knows of the fact.

Source: News Release 16 Jul 2007

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