Technology is 'critical in fight against terrorism': Shanmugam

Technology is 'critical in fight against terrorism': Shanmugam
Special Operations Task Force officers had taken out five “terrorists” storming a cinema during a media preview of the counter- terrorism exercise on 17 October 2016.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The mindsets and operation methods of terrorists are changing, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said yesterday.

"Terrorists are no longer interested in taking hostages," he said.

"They want to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and then keep a small number for reasons of publicity and getting international attention.

"So essentially... a terror attack can take place any time, any place, and they can attack and impact on anyone."

Mr Shanmugam gave the warning during his opening address at the 2017 Milipol Asia-Pacific Conference at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

The three-day international homeland security trade conference, now in its seventh edition, involves international delegates and more than 270 security exhibitors.

On the changing nature of terror attacks, Mr Shanmugam said that nowadays, anything can become a weapon - from a knife to a car - as in the recent Westminster attack in London.

"How do security agencies deal with that kind of attacks? Assault by weapons, rifles, we can identify," he said.

Focusing on the options, the minister said technology will play a critical role in counter-terrorism efforts.

This would involve collaboration with like-minded countries, the private sector and industry to develop smart technology and artificial intelligence and nurture a pool of technologically-savvy officers.

He said: "It is going to require a fundamental change in the way security agencies think and operate, because they have to keep trying to stay ahead of the terrorists."

Mr Shanmugam also said that much more could be done using robots or automations to support enforcement officers in carrying out routine or even dangerous activities.

As Singapore progresses into a smart nation, more will need to be done to protect its infocommunications infrastructure, he added.

"The transport (system), communications and your work environment - all of that is now at risk. Really, you have to bulletproof the entire system, which is a massive undertaking," he said.


Even crowdsourcing apps could play a role in the fight against terror, he said.

Citing the SGSecure mobile app, which has more than 380,000 users since its launch last September, he noted how it was used to alert residents near Hougang MRT station after its closure following the discovery of an unattended bag on Sunday.

Man left unattended bag in Hougang MRT station causing it to be closed for an hour

Mr Shanmugam also said closing the station was "the right thing to do".

After a station camera picked up someone leaving a bag behind and walking off, the "immediate response was to close the station down", he said.

"There were questions as to whether we overreacted, but if it were really a bomb, then the question will be why we did not, so closing it was the right thing to do."

This article was first published on Apr 05, 2017.
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