Since the Government introduced the contact tracing mobile application TraceTogether to facilitate contact tracing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not been well-received by Singaporeans as many refused to download the app.
Regarding this matter, Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang GRC Vikram Nair asked the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan if the Government has plans to make it mandatory for Singaporeans to download the aforementioned mobile app.
Dr Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Friday (5 June) that the Government will not make the download compulsory, citing the reason that the app did not work equally well across different smartphone operating systems, like iOS and Android.
He explained that Apple’s iOS suspends Bluetooth scanning when the app is running in the background. This situation would require iOS users to use the app in the foreground without interference by other applications.
“We’ve had repeated discussions at both the technical and policy level with Apple, but we have not yet been able to find a satisfactory solution.”
Furthermore, Dr Balakrishnan described that having one-fifth of the Singaporean population download TraceTogether was an “encouraging” figure.
However, he proceeded to announce that the Government is developing a new “portable and wearable” device, which will be distributed to everyone in the nation.
“If this portable device works, we may then distribute it to everyone in Singapore. And I believe this will be more inclusive, and it will ensure that all of us will be protected,” Dr Balakrishnan elaborated.
He stated that the new contact tracing device will “achieve the same objectives” as the TraceTogether app, but it does not require a smartphone to work.
In justifying why contact tracing app and device are heavily promoted by the Government, Dr Balakrishnan noted that contact tracing has become a “necessity” especially now that Singapore has exited the circuit breaker (CB) period.
Understanding that people do not specifically need the contact tracing app when they are at home during CB, he stressed that more people are going out and about, which would increase the chances of being in close contact with others post-CB.
Dr Balakrishnan went on to say that contact tracing is a “professional skill” that would require human judgment.
Therefore, he hoped that Singaporeans will work with the Government to reduce the incidence of clusters with the support of “better and faster” contact tracing.
“If we can reduce the incidence of clusters by better and faster contact tracing, then we can avoid having to reintroduce restrictive circuit breaker measures in the future.”
“I hope that all members of the public will work with us to achieve this.”
About TraceTogether’s data confidentiality
In regards to TraceTogether’s user privacy, Dr Balakrishnan explained that personal data is stored on the user’s mobile phone and that it is strictly used for contact tracing. The data will be accessed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) when a user is tested COVID-19 positive.
He assured that the data is protected from “malicious hackers”, adding that it will be deleted from the phone once it is older than 25 days, as reported by Channel News Asia.
According to Dr Balakrishnan, only a small group of authorised officers in MOH will have access to the data if close contact data is required for contact tracing.
“There are safeguards including encryption in place to protect this from malicious hackers and the data that’s older than 25 days will be automatically deleted from your phone.”
“If the close contact data is required for contact tracing, only a small group of authorised officers in MOH will have access to it.”