COMPUTER CRIME Stopping identity theft Fears that it will spread prompt govt move to tighten guidelines on disclosure of IC numbers By Alfred Siew IDENTITY card numbers splashed across newspaper advertisements are likely to be a thing of the past, as the Government moves to tighten disclosure rules amid growing concerns about identity theft. Last week, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts sent a letter to Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp advising them to refrain from publishing IC numbers in full in their advertisements. This means contest results announced in the newspapers, for example, are likely to show only part of a person's IC. SPH's senior vice-president for marketing, Ms Mable Chan, said the publisher has 'strongly advised' advertisers to follow the new guidelines, even though they are not compulsory. The latest move comes as concerns grow over the use of personal information to commit fraud and track people's whereabouts. As more online services rely on convenient log-in procedures, opportunities open up for fraud. The IC number and date of birth are all that are needed for some online services. Ministry of Home Affairs figures show there were nine reported cases involving fraudulent use of another person's IC in 2003 and last year. The perpetrators used other people's ICs to apply for mobile phone services or gain entry to pubs. The issue was highlighted in a Straits Times article last month by Nominated Member of Parliament Ivan Png, who called for tighter controls over the collection and disclosure of IC numbers, for example, at private condominiums where visitors are asked to surrender their ICs.
Professor Png is with the departments of information systems and business policy at the National University of Singapore. High-profile cases of identity theft in Singapore are rare so far, but Prof Png argued that imposing a code of practice now is important to safeguard against a threat he believed will become more pervasive with the Internet's vast reach. There should be strict rules, he said, governing who has access to IC numbers and how long these records are kept. Government agencies have been doggedly plugging security loopholes in their online services over the past three years. Previously, a search for marriage applications at the Registry of Marriages (ROM) website would turn up a person's IC number and date of birth. When this information was entered into another e-government website, it was possible to discover the person's address. Now, the ROM website shows only a person's month and year of birth, not his IC number.