Is this illegal?
Lawyers differ in views, police say it's up to condo management
NEW SERVICE: Mr Wilson Lam started offering the access card duplication service after buying a machine from Taiwan that can decode and copy access cards. --TNP PICTURE: PHYLLICIA WANG
HE makes copies of condominium access cards.
Question is: Is he breaking the law?
Mr Wilson Lam, 58, certainly does not think so, but the 'jury' - lawyers and condo managers - is unsure.
There is no law against duplicating access cards.
Mr Lam is a typical keymaker, working at a simple push-cart stall opposite Bukit Merah bus interchange.
His service is uncommon. Not many people can make duplicates of condominium access cards, which have complicated codes that grant only individual owners access to condo buildings or units.
Mr Lam, who has been a keymaker and locksmith for about 20 years, bought a machine from Taiwan that can decode and copy access cards. He began offering the service three months ago, hoping to diversify his business.
'I'm getting old, so this is a way for me to make more money,' he told The New Paper.
He charges only a few dollars to duplicate normal keys, but $28 for every condo access card he duplicates.
The machine, which cost him $300, works on only about 50 per cent of his customers' cards.
Mr Lam said in Mandarin: 'Some cards, like those made by US companies, are too high-tech for the machine to duplicate.
'I may get more sophisticated machines in future that can do the job.'
So far he has made about 10 cards for his customers, who are condo residents or real estate agents.
He said: 'My customers tell me that their condo management won't make duplicates for them so they come to me. The residents make duplicates to give to their relatives or friends.'
Transponder car keys too
Besides making duplicate condo access cards, he also duplicates transponder car keys. These are keys which use an electronics transmission system for access and ignition.
But condo cards present a greater security issue because it allows access into residential areas.
Should duplicating be allowed?
Mr Lam said he does not make duplicates of cards that have the words 'Do not duplicate' printed on them.
When queried, the police said it's up to the management of the condos involved.
Ms Rosaline Ong, condo manager of Regent Grove, in Choa Chu Kang, said: 'When residents get their cards, they are told that they can't duplicate them.
'Also, our cards have the resident's picture printed on it, unlike other condos which use plain cards, so that's an added security feature.'
Since the access card system was put in place two years ago, she has not heard of any cases of cards being duplicated.
Ms Ong was surprised to hear about the duplication service.
She said: 'For every access card there is a serial number and microchip that is read by the access card reader. Unless a person knows how to hack into the system, I don't see how it can be done.
'It doesn't seem common so most condos probably don't have by-laws specifically prohibiting the duplication of cards.'
Some by-laws do imply that cards should not be duplicated.
For example, Valley Park, a condo along River Valley Road that uses access cards, or security passes, states in its by-laws that its passes are non-transferable and that the number of passes per unit is limited to two or three.
Residents who want more passes 'will be considered on a case-by-case basis and documentary evidence is required to prove that the applicants are residing in the condominium'.
If residents lose their pass, they have to pay $50 to get it replaced.
Mr Sebastian Chua, who works at a condo which has been using access cards for the past nine years, said: 'This is the first time I'm hearing about the cards being duplicated. If it's really possible, we should ask why this is allowed.
'Where is the control? People can just duplicate and give the cards away.'
Lawyer Ahmad Nizam said making a duplicate card is not an issue, but how the card is used is important.
He said: 'It boils down to who has ownership of the property linked to the card. If someone makes a duplicate to let people enter a residential block, that may be a problem because he doesn't own exclusive rights to the block.
'So by right, he can't let others access it.'
Another lawyer, who declined to be named, had a different opinion.
The lawyer, who has dealt with IT matters since 1990, said: 'An access card contains computer software and data. Duplication of that is considered copyright infringement if done without permission.
'The copyright owner can take legal action. The person who duplicates should make sure he's doing it with authorisation. If he's not careful, he may be helping someone commit a crime.'
The Electric New Paper, Singapore - The Electric New Paper News