SINGAPORE – Private security officers, when detaining individuals for criminal offences such as trespassing, should not collect, use or disclose the suspect’s full NRIC number as this would be in breach of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).
However, they are allowed to collect NRIC numbers for visitor entry into sensitive places such as data centres or bank vaults due to the significant security concerns involved.
These are among the common scenarios spelt out in a guidebook for security officers on PDPA regulations related to the collection of NRIC and other national identification numbers.
The guidebook was launched on Wednesday (July 24) by the Security Association Singapore (SAS) at its annual Security Officers Day Awards.
The launch comes ahead of rules which kick in on Sept 1 that would make it illegal for organisations to collect, use or disclose NRIC numbers or make copies of the identity card.
Under the PDPA, security agencies would be obliged to ensure that any personal data such as NRIC numbers, birth certificate numbers, FINs and work permit numbers, would be “sufficiently secure” and cannot be accessed by unauthorised parties.
In addition, security agencies must ensure that the data collected by its officers is not retained for a period longer than is necessary for legal or business purposes.
Where it is not allowed under the PDPA to collect such data, but is necessary to verify a person’s identity such as in the event where a suspect is caught for trespassing, the guidebook suggests officers may instead visually inspect the suspect’s NRIC and note down his partial NRIC number, mobile number, full name, or postal code of his registered address.
At the event, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Zaqy Mohamad also revealed that working conditions for security officers have improved with data showing that more of them clocked shorter overtime hours last year.
The number of licensed security agencies that applied to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to allow their officers to work longer overtime hours than is legally permissible fell by nearly 25 per cent – from 174 in 2017 to 134 in 2018 – said Mr Zaqy.
Under the Employment Act, working hours for security officers including overtime cannot exceed 12 hours a day. In addition, overtime hours cannot exceed 72 hours in a month.
Companies that require their employees to do so would have to apply for an overtime exemption from MOM, which allows employees to work up to 95 hours of overtime a month, or up to 14 hours a day.
However, from Jan 1, 2021, MOM will no longer grant overtime exemptions, to improve the working conditions of security officers.
“Fatigue can affect the health and safety of workers, and the removal of overtime exemption will enable security officers to get more rest,” said Mr Zaqy, who urged security companies to adopt technology to increase productivity instead of relying heavily on manpower and overtime hours.
He added that companies can tap the Government’s grant schemes, such as the Enterprise Development Grant or Productivity Solutions Grant, to do so.
Metropolis Security Systems general manager Lek Shao Hua told The Straits Times that the company stopped applying for overtime exemptions this year, after a “challenging” trial period last year.
“Some officers like to come back to work on their rest days, and some agencies would pay up to 1.5 times more for overtime hours.”
“So it was quite painful at the start,” said Mr Lek, who added that the move to reduce overtime hours had led to some security officers leaving the firm.
However, he added that the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for security officers, which was introduced five years ago, has helped to make up for the shortfall by increasing the basic pay.
“With the PWM, even on days when they rest, they still get paid instead of having to work overtime,” he said.
The issue of security officers being mistreated by some members of the public was highlighted by SAS president Raj Joshua Thomas during the event, which saw a total of 169 security officers commended for their work.
In his speech, Mr Thomas reiterated the need for security officers to be gazetted as public service workers under the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha), adding that the SAS “will continue to pursue this”.
In January, labour MPs Zainal Sapari and Patrick Tay had urged the Government to review the harassment law to cover all private security officers.
Currently, only security officers working in specified places, such as public healthcare institutions and educational institutions, and those who work in public spaces, such as bus interchanges and railway premises, are covered by the Poha.
Those who threaten, abuse or insult public service workers can be fined up to $5,000, or jailed for up to 12 months, or both.