Digital technology transforms travel

Singapore relies on digital technology to provide a safe and secure experience for travelers at its borders

Security at its borders is of paramount concern to the Singaporean Government. Its position both as a global business hub and a major tourist destination means that it has some of the busiest points of entry in the world. The ratio of travellers to residents is extraordinary: close to 100 million people arrive by land, air and sea every year, of whom 13.1 million are tourists. The resident population of Singapore, meanwhile, is just over five million.

With such a dense population, the economy relies on swift processing at border controls. The rapid movement of people in as safe and secure a way as possible is vital, whether they are part of an international delegation jetting in to sign a deal or one of a growing number of tourists visiting the country.

Because of this, in 2006, Singapore was one of the first immigration authorities to introduce ePassports. These modern, biometric identity documents, known as BioPass, look similar to the older, paper-only documents, but they feature a laser-engraved polycarbonate page and an embedded contactless chip that contains encrypted passenger details and biometric identifiers. These chips can be read by a standard machine at a border control.

Aside from being harder to clone due to the embedded smart chip, Singapore's ePassports store a digitized copy of the holder's photograph. This appears on a customs officer's screen when the passport is read, so any difference with the printed photograph is immediately obvious. In effect, the passport can be neither forged nor stolen.

ePassports are now commonplace around the world, but the Singapore Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and its technology partners continue to use them in ways few other countries have explored. The enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System (eIACS), for example, allows travelers with valid Singapore ePassports and identity cards to clear immigration by themselves using automated gates. Another automated immigration clearance system is the Biometric Identification of Motorbikers (BIKES), which lets pre-registered motorcyclists scan their fingerprints to pass through border checkpoints.

Many countries use ePassports to help keep travelers moving through its airport terminals by reducing delays at immigration control. In Singapore, these systems also aim to reduce congestion at land entry points such as the Johor-Singapore Causeway. This stretches for more than a kilometer over the Straits of Johor linking Malaysia and Singapore. More than 60,000 vehicles a day commute across this six-lane floating highway, which carries rail freight and water, as well as workers in their cars.

The causeway is just one of several busy gateways to Singapore. As a powerful global destination with a highly mobile population crossing the border regularly for work and leisure, the problem of congestion is ever-present at Singapore’s checkpoints.

Controlling these borders is the task of the ICA, and digital travel security technologies play a key part in its vision of “inspiring confidence in all.”

Ensuring Singapore’s safety and maintaining the country’s position as a key business and financial center in an increasingly globalized world is driving these innovative technological solutions.

First published on June 26, 2013
Last edited on August 06, 2013
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