What is a Protected Area and Place in Singapore?

Last updated on January 12, 2024

protected place signage on fence

In today’s world where snapping pictures of locations or premises in public spaces is commonplace, this article is a reminder of the restrictions that exist under the Infrastructure Protection Act (IPA).

Images of a protected area or place can threaten public safety and security, if used for unlawful purposes. They can also reveal details of security measures, the flow of people and the movement of guards. In some cases, terrorists can even carry out pre-attack surveillance of their targets.

The IPA was brought into force on 18 December 2018. It is part of Singapore’s national counter-terrorism framework designed to keep the country safe and secure.

This article will cover:

What is a Protected Area? 

Under the IPA, the Minister declares an area a “protected” area if it is necessary that special measures (e.g. requiring a person who enters, or is about to enter the protected area, to provide the person’s name and residential address or permit a search to be made of that person) be taken to control the movement and conduct of persons in the premises.

Examples of such protected areas include police stations and commercial ports.

What is a Protected Place? 

On the other hand, the Minister may declare a place a “protected place” if it is necessary that special measures are taken to prevent the entry of unauthorised persons or to control the movement and conduct of authorised persons in the premises.

Examples of such protected places include Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) camps, security headquarters, and water treatment plants.

What is the Difference Between a Protected Area and a Protected Place? 

Broadly, the difference between a “protected area” and a “protected place” lies in its accessibility to the public. A “protected area” may be accessible to the public while entry into a “protected place” is restricted and controlled.

A person must not enter a “protected place” unless he has a permit issued by the authority of the protected place or if he is permitted to enter by an authorised officer of the protected place who is on duty at the time.

The legal issues in this article will be discussed with reference to both a protected place and a protected area (PA/PP).

Process for Application for Protected Area and Protected Place Status 

It is possible to apply to declare one’s premises as a protected area or place. To do so, owners or occupiers of these premises can fill in an application form to be submitted to the Centre for Protective Security (CPS). The application form must be accompanied with certain documents like:

  • A draft PA/PP order for publication in the Gazette
  • A survey plan demarcating the proposed PA/PP site boundary
  • A Street Directory Map indicating the boundaries of the PA/PP and where relevant the boundaries of the surrounding area of the PA/PP where powers are intended to be exercised by authorised officers
  • Where relevant, a letter of support from the relevant public agency if the premises are owned/occupied by a private sector entity

Upon receipt of the complete set of application documents, CPS will assess the application together with other security agencies, and work with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to vet the draft PA/PP order. This process is expected to take around 1 to 2 months, depending on the complexity of the application and completeness of information submitted for the application.

Once the Minister for Home Affairs has approved the application, CPS will inform the applicant of the outcome in writing. The approved PA/PP order will also be published in the Singapore Government Gazette at least one day before the PA/PP status comes into effect.

How to Identify If an Area is a Protected Area or a Protected Place 

To identify if premises are protected areas or protected places, the IPA specifies that notice of a  PA/PP must be given by the Minister. The signs to alert people of the PA/PP status are shown below and can be found on the Singapore Police Force’s website.

Is Photography or Videography of a Protected Area or Protected Place Allowed?

Photography or videography of a PA/PP is not allowed without the owner’s permission. To ensure the signs are visible, there are specific requirements that must be met. These include the following:

  • The warning notice shall be made of sturdy material like an aluminium sheet sprayed in a red background. The wordings on the warning notice shall be printed in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. It shall also depict the silhouette of an armed guard standing at attention. The dimensions of the notice should be 1220mm by 810mm.
  • In terms of font, the height of all captions and instructions shall be 50mm and 35mm, respectively. All text and characters shall be evenly and symmetrically aligned, printed in glossy white colour against the red background of the warning notice.
  • Lastly, the notice shall depict the silhouette of the armed guard enclosed within a white border of thickness 9mm, with height and width 400mm by 400mm.

One must be aware of the enhanced powers to secure the surrounding areas of a PA/PP. For instance, authorised officers like a police officer or a soldier from the Singapore Armed Forces may:

  • Request identification;
  • Direct persons to leave; or
  • Inspect belongings and vehicles for dangerous items.

In August 2023, a couple was charged with taking videos inside the Police Cantonment Complex, a protected area under the IPA. It is an offence to take a photograph or to make any film or video recording of a police station without permission. The Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) explained that the Police Cantonment building was significant from a security perspective. As it was the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department, it was publicly recognisable as an icon of the Singapore Police Force. The DPP stated that any unauthorised filming undermines the message that the Police Cantonment Complex is a protected place and may result in the perception that the security of such buildings is not enforced.

In November 2023, a man who allegedly used a drone to unlawfully take at least 10 video recordings of Brani Terminal was handed one charge under the IPA. The man was accused of using a DJI Mini 3 Pro unmanned aircraft (UA) to capture images of the commercial port – a protected place under Singapore law, given its critical role in international trade and being a “gateway to the world”.

While one must not take pictures or videos of protected areas, there are certain persons exempted from seeking approval before doing so. These are persons who have permits issued by the Singapore Police Force under the Air Navigation Act or Air Navigation Order or licences issued by the Land Transport Authority under the Road Traffic (Autonomous Motor Vehicles) Rules 2017.

However, the Authority (person who is designated as the authority of the protected area in the protected area order for the protected area) may decide if they wish to grant permission to any person to take photographs of the protected area (whether from inside, outside or above). This applies to photography from the land or from the air, whether from inside, outside or above the protected area. Members of the public who wish to take photographs of the PA/PP from the outside may seek permission from the Authority to do so.

Penalties for Taking Photos or Videos of a Protected Area or a Protected Place

An authorised officer of a PA/PP may have reason to suspect that a person has taken a photograph of a PA/PP without authorisation. For instance, if a camera or drone has been recovered by an authorised officer in a PA/PP, he or she may direct the person to immediately stop taking any photograph, delete or destroy the photograph taken or surrender the photograph or device used to take the photograph (“the directions”).

Taking any photograph of a PA/PP (whether from inside, outside or above that PA/PP) without the permission of the authority of that PA/PP or failing to comply with the above directions is an offence.

The offender shall be liable on conviction to a fine of up to $20,000 or to imprisonment for a term of up to 2 years, or to both.

If in doubt, it is best to consult a criminal lawyer on the intricacies of the IPA and what is or is not permitted under the statute. If you wish to seek permission from the relevant authorities to take videos or photographs of protected areas or places, you should also seek advice from lawyers on the process for doing so.

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