According to news reports, usage of the TraceTogether app or token will become mandatory at all popular public venues such as restaurants, workplaces, schools and shopping malls as of December.
This means that as of December this year, the public will no longer be able to gain entry to these places by scanning SafeEntry QR codes with their phone cameras, or through the SingPass mobile app or barcodes on their NRIC. Instead, they will be forced to use either the TraceTogether app or token.
Isn’t this in contravention of what minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said before the general election in July this year?
Speaking at a virtual conference helmed by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force in June, Dr Balakrishnan said that there were no plans for the Government to make it mandatory for residents in Singapore to use the proposed wearable devices for contact tracing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added that the use of the devices should be based on a “spirit of trust, openness, and compassion” as well as “mutual responsibility”.
Fast forward just a few months–coincidentally after the general election–however, the Government seems to be backtracking.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the COVID-19 task force, said on Tuesday (21 October) that having 70 per cent of Singapore’s population using TraceTogether is one of the conditions that has to be met for Singapore to enter Phase Three of the post-circuit breaker reopening.
Perhaps Dr Balakrishnan will argue that the TraceTogether app is a mobile application and not a device per se.
This is, however, a shallow argument — at the end of the day, it will work like a device tracking exactly where you are.
Where, then, is the “spirit of trust, openness, and compassion” when the Government is essentially going back on its word?
One might argue that these types of rules are required to control a pandemic.
However, look deeper and you will see that this line of argument is illogical. It is not as if we are not already tracking and tracing without this app or token. QR codes are already in place and are working well.
Furthermore, local infected cases have been dropping other than the imported cases.
The only difference with this token and the TraceTogether app is that it provides centralised and easily accessible information to the authorities. Do we want this – where the potential of Big Brother is watching looms?
At this point, there are still questions around who will have access to the data and for how long?
Remember, powers now given in the time of a pandemic will not be easily clawed back after the pandemic is over.
Do we want a centralised database of our whereabouts given to the Government with no guarantee that this will be abolished when the pandemic ends?
At that time, Balakrishnan also said: “When you’re controlling a pandemic like this, there are many aspects of it you cannot legislate.”
Yet, this is exactly what the Government will now be doing by making the TraceTogether app or token mandatory!
Did Balakrishnan know then that the Government would make the TraceTogether app or token compulsory? If so, was he misleading the public?
By saying one thing and doing another thing, the Government is eroding its own credibility. By sending out one message before the general election, only to backtrack a few months after it returns to power, the Government is breaching the people’s trust in it.