Singapore is making the most extensive effort to collect data on daily living ever attempted in a city.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that as part of its Smart Nation Platform (SNP) launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, new sensors and cameras deployed across Singapore will scoop up data and information, allowing the government to monitor all facets of the city spanning everything from cleanliness of public spaces, smoking rates, to density of crowds and the precise movements of all locally registered vehicles.
The report detailed in The Wall Street Journal says Singapore’s federal government will also harness private companies to place sensors in senior homes to monitor residents’ activity levels including bathroom use. Families can access the data to know the actions of the subject in real time.
The move will likely affect the lives of every single resident in the country, in ways that are still somewhat unclear, as some applications may not be registered until the system has been implemented.
Data will be fed into an online platform called Virtual Singapore to provide the government with a clear view into how the country is functioning in real time.
The implementation will likely have many healthcare benefits, with potentially allowing the government to predict where and how infectious disease may spread or to facilitate effective and efficient emergency services to an area if required.
According to The Wall Street Journal, a spokesman said the government will only deploy sensors when there are specific benefits to citizens, and will not build systems to collect data unless there is a clear plan for managing the results.
Any decision to use data collected by Smart Nation sensors for law enforcement or surveillance would not, under Singapore law, need court approval or citizen consultation.
If the network is hacked, criminals could potentially access mountains of data on citizens.
Singapore’s foreign affairs minister and minister in charge of Smart Nation Vivian Balakrishnan told The Wall Street Journal that “the big, big elephant in the room is the protection of privacy and ensuring security,” he said.
Having already built up significant capabilities including a nationwide high-speed broadband network and public wireless coverage, the city-state has been on the right path towards becoming an intelligent society, said Mr Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
"But Smart Nation's biggest challenge isn't technology. It's about changing mindsets," he said.
The project appears to be regarded positively in Singapore, where faith in the government is high and citizens have accepted limits on behaviour including public restrictions on public speech and the press in return for a more efficient state.
The Smart Nation Singapore website states that “A Smart Nation means people and businesses are empowered through increased access to data, more participatory through the contribution of innovative ideas and solutions, and a more anticipatory government that utilises technology to better serve citizens’ needs.”
The Singapore government has not held a public discussion on the issue.