Second Reading Speech for The Private Security Industry Bill 2007, Ministry of Home Affairs Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.Impetus for the Bill
In the post 9/11 security environment, the Government has enhanced our security measures in key installations and upgraded the capabilities of our security forces to deal with the new threat of terrorism. However, the police cannot be everywhere. Therefore, it is imperative that we also upgrade the professional standards in the private security industry, so that it can complement the work of our security forces in contributing to Singapore’s overall safety and security.
The critical role of security personnel can be seen in the many incidents that have occurred in the region and elsewhere in the world. In both the Marriott and Australian Embassy bombings in Jakarta, security personnel had approached the vehicles loaded with explosives before the vehicles were driven up to the buildings proper. As a result, the suicide bombers detonated their bombs earlier than planned – before they could position their vehicles near the buildings, where the explosion would have caused many more casualties.
As the security threat evolves, we will need to ensure that we have a competent and professional private security industry to help safeguard our safety and security. This is the impetus for the key changes that the Bill is introducing.Introduction of licensing regimes for private investigators and security officers
Sir, let me now take the House through the key features of the Bill.
First and foremost, we have to strengthen our regulatory framework for private investigators and security officers—or what are commonly known as “security guards”—by putting in place separate licensing regimes for them.
Security officers guard many of our shopping malls, commercial buildings, hotels and key installations. They should be alert in detecting and reporting potential threats. Their timely reports of any suspicious activity can bring about expeditious action by law enforcement agencies. At the same time, they are an additional resource in our response to security incidents.
Let me cite an example. About 2 months back, the SCDF received an anonymous call before noon, informing them that a bomb was going to explode at the Raffles Place. Together with the security officers deployed in the vicinity, Police immediately checked the vicinity of Clifford Centre where the call was traced to. A security officer deployed at the Clifford Centre assisted the Police in reviewing the CCTV recording and provided information that helped to identify the likely culprit.
That same afternoon, there was a second call to the SCDF informing them that bombs had been planted at Orchard Road and Tanjong Pagar. This time, the call was traced to International Plaza. Police responded immediately. Security officers deployed at the location again assisted the Police in reviewing the CCTV recording. The likely culprit of the morning episode was again identified in this set of CCTV recording. A quick search was done in the vicinity and the culprit was arrested following his admission to making both the bomb hoax calls.
This example shows the value of well-trained and vigilant security officers who can complement our security forces. We are therefore introducing an enhanced regulatory regime, where all security officers, and private investigators as well, will be licensed personally, so that:
it will enable the licensing authority to conduct the necessary background checks and prevent undesirable elements from operating as security officers or private investigators; and
it will enable the licensing authority to specify the requisite skills and qualifications that private investigators and security officers should have. In time to come, the licensing authority may require security officers who work at more sensitive installations, where the security threat is higher, to possess higher level qualifications and skills.This licensing regime will also apply to those security officers and private investigators in the direct employment of building owners or businesses, and who currently do not need Police’s approval to work.
There will also be regulations governing the conduct of security officers and security agencies. The net result is that better training and conduct will raise the standards and will give the security officers a greater sense of pride and professionalism.
Should a private investigator or security officer be charged with or convicted of a prescribed offence which makes his continued employment as a private investigator or security officer undesirable, his licence can be suspended with immediate effect. This power is provided in Clause 24(5) of the Bill.
With the introduction of the licensing schemes for security officers and private investigators, more than 500 private investigators and 30,000 security officers will need to apply for a licence.
We are aware that some security officers and private investigators are unable to attain a licence, despite their best efforts. If they work in places where the security threat is lower, we will consider exempting them from the licensing requirement under the Act. This will ease the level of displacement from the industry when the Act comes into force.
Clause 5(2) of the Bill currently provides that certain persons are not to be regarded as private investigators, such as in-house investigators employed by insurance companies, and those working as investigators in other business sectors, for example, those who obtain or give information on the financial standing of another person, or public accountants, which pose little threat to national security, and are of no concern to the Police. The Act also allows Minister to further exempt other categories of private investigators from licensing under the Act, should their work be of little security concern.Approval for private investigators to take on certain security assignments
However, for those private investigators who need to be licensed, Police will tighten up the regulatory regime to ensure that they do not conduct private investigation activities which may be prejudicial to the public interest or our national security.
Clause 11 of the Bill therefore states that a private investigator has to seek the licensing officer’s approval before accepting any assignment from a foreign government or its proxy agency.
Similarly, a private investigator has to seek the licensing officer’s approval before he carries out any surveillance, or activities which involve the gathering of information on, certain persons or places of security concern. The licensing officer may subsequently revoke this approval if it is not in the public interest or if it poses a threat to national security.
Sir, key government leaders and sensitive places are known to be targets of terrorists. Having such provisions in our laws will mark out clearly to the industry the boundaries they have to work within. At the same time, such a law serves to alert the licensing authority to any activities of security concern, giving the licensing authority advance information, as well as the opportunity to investigate further if necessary.Record-keeping of identities of private investigator’s clients.
Other measures to strengthen the regulatory framework over the private investigation industry include Clause 10, which requires a private investigation agency to obtain and verify the identity and address of the person engaging its services, before it can accept any assignment from such a person.
To complement this requirement, Clause 12 of the Bill specifies the various records, including the identity of the clients, which a private investigation agency or employer of a private investigator has to keep and submit to the licensing authority.Expansion of regulatory scope to include other activities in the private security industry.
The Bill will also cover security service providers, other than private investigators and security officers. As defined in Clause 18, those providing security surveillance services, and those installing security equipment like audio devices used for overhearing and recording a conversation in any premises, will be regulated under the new Act. This will allow controls to be imposed on other security service providers, to ensure that they meet certain standards of professionalism.
For example, Clause 20 allows the licensing officer to levy a charge on a prescribed security service provider, being a Central Alarm Monitoring Station or CAMS provider, if it indiscriminately alerts the police whenever an alarm is activated at premises it is monitoring, without first taking reasonable measures to verify whether it is a false alarm.
The Schedule of the Bill contains a list of security equipment that will fall under the ambit of the new Act.Increase in fine quantum
Sir, the current Act was enacted in 1973, more than 30 years ago. The highest penalty provided for in the Act is a $10,000 fine or a 2-year imprisonment term, or both. In the current context, where revenues of industry players are considerably higher, such penalties are no longer adequate, particularly the fines. If the fines are not increased, the Act will pose no deterrence and this will have adverse consequences for our security. Hence, to keep pace with changes in the business environment and to ensure that there is sufficient deterrence in today’s context, the Bill will provide for a five-fold increase in the maximum quantum of fines.Past Initiatives to Upgrade Industry
Mr Speaker, Sir, let me put into context the current amendments in terms of what we are doing to upgrade the private security industry. At the end of 2004, Police set up the Security Industry Regulatory Department, or SIRD, to look into the regulation of the private security industry. A set of skills standard under the National Skills Recognition System, or NSRS, was introduced in 2005 for all private security officers employed by the security agencies.
At the beginning of last year, a buyer awareness exhibition and seminar was held to allow major buyers in the business community to be more discerning in their engagement of security service providers. Last month, I launched the Security Workforce Skills Qualifications or Security WSQ.
In line with the effort to upgrade the quality of the security services, a pilot exercise was also conducted last year, to grade all licensed security agencies according to prescribed professional standards. Part of the objective of the exercise was also to provide an objective and authoritative assessment of existing security agencies and motivate them to raise their service standards and improve their operational processes. Police has recently completed the formal grading exercise for this year, after refining the criteria following last year’s pilot exercise, and will be publishing the results on the internet very soon.
Sir, much work has been done over the last few years to develop the private security industry into the effective partner of our security forces. Today’s amendment to the law is part of this greater transformation of the industry which MHA is helping to facilitate. In the current security environment, this Act will be a key component in our efforts to enhance the capabilities of the private security industry, so that the Government and private sector partnership can work together to keep Singapore safe and secure.