The proposed wearable device for contract tracing is not a tracking device and will not have GPS capabilities nor mobile internet connectivity, the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said in a media briefing on Monday (8 June).
The Minister repeatedly emphasized that the device – which will be named TraceTogether token – will not be able to track users’ movements and locations as it does not have GPS.
“It is not a tracking device. It is not an electronic tag, as some Internet commentaries have fretted about in particular,” said Mr Balakrishnan.
As there would be no internet connectivity in the device, there is no possibility of data being uploaded without the consent of the user, he added.
In fact, the device only uses Bluetooth proximity data which will be encrypted and stored in the phone for up to 25 days before it automatically deleted from the phone.
“It’s worth emphasizing that there isn’t one big giant centralised database. In fact, the data is decentralised and encrypted on phones and on devices and only uploaded if [the user] is positive,” the Minister remarked.
The data will be extracted from the phone if a user is infected with the COVID-19 disease, which Mr Balakrishnan reassured that only a “small number of personnel have access to the data for contact tracing purposes”, adding that they are covered by the Official Secrets Act.
“Even the finite silos of data that are uploaded are protected by the public sector data security recommendations. All the officers involved are covered by the Official Secrets Act and we will continue to audit and make sure no data leakage occurs,” he said.
In addition, Mr Balakrishnan said in Parliament on 5 June that the device will have the same function as the TraceTogether mobile application – which uses Bluetooth proximity data.
He hinted that the new device will be progressively distributed to everyone in Singapore if it works. The first batch of the device will be delivered later this month.
Netizens still “not convinced” that the TraceTogether token is not a tracking device
Despite the Minister had repeatedly emphasized that the wearable device for contact tracing – TraceTogether token – is not a tracking device, many netizens still refused to believe it.
Netizens were quick to criticize Mr Balakrishnan’s remarks on the device as they penned their thoughts under the comments section of Channel News Asia’s YouTube video – covering the media briefing. Some of them commented that the Government is “sugarcoating” to make the device sounds more “acceptable”.
While others are simply not convinced with the Minister’s explanation, noting that they do not want their privacy to be invaded by being tracked by the device.
Noting that the wearable device has no GPS and mobile internet connectivity, one netizen asked whether the Government would still be able to track every wearable device if it sets up Bluetooth signals across the nation.
Another netizen said that the Minister “can fool” the “non-tech savvy” individuals, but those who understand how technology works would know that Bluetooth is “a form of transmission” that can enable tracking. Hence, he implored the Government to use the financial resources on swab tests instead.
Concerns about privacy issue were previously raised by Singaporeans following the wearable device
Meanwhile, the Minister’s announcement on the TraceTogether token had raised some concerns about privacy issues among Singaporeans.
A petition titled “Singapore says ‘No’ to wearable devices for COVID-19 contact tracing” – rejecting the development of the TraceTogether token – has garnered more than 37,000 signatories at the time of writing.
The Singapore People’s Party (SPP) also released a statement authored by its Assistant Secretary-General Ariffin Sha on 7 June, urging the Government to “tread with utmost caution and regard for the privacy of Singaporeans”.
The Party also raised concerns in relation to cybersecurity issues and highlighted the Government’s recent track record in relation to cybersecurity, noting that it “leaves much to be desired”.
“Privacy is a fundamental right and is about protecting information, not hiding it. A lack of privacy can create very serious risks, at both an individual and national level,” the SPP remarked.