The Singapore Police Force is empowered to obtain any data under the Criminal Procedure Code, including data from COVID-19 contact tracing system TraceTogether, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan in Parliament on Monday (4 January).

Member of Parliament (MP) Christopher de Souza raised the question of whether TraceTogether data will be used for criminal investigations and what legal provisions and safeguards are present in using such data.

In response, Mr Tan noted that authorised police officers are allowed to access TraceTogether data for authorised purposes.

“The Government is the custodian of the TT [TraceTogether] data submitted by the individuals and stringent measures are put in place to safeguard this personal data,” said the Minister.

“Examples of these measures include only allowing authorised officers to access the data, using such data only for authorised purposes and storing the data on a secured data platform,” he added.

According to Mr Tan, public officers who disclose such data without authorisation or misuse the data may be fined up to S$5,000 or jailed up to two years or both.

Workers’ Party (WP) MP Gerald Giam asked if the use of such data would violate the TraceTogether privacy statement, raising concern that this may reduce voluntary adoption of the TraceTogether token or app.

Mr Tan answered, “We do not preclude the use of TraceTogether data in circumstances where citizens’ safety and security is or has been affected, and this applies to all other data as well.”

“Authorised police officers may invoke then the Criminal Procedure Code … Powers to obtain this data for the purpose of a criminal investigation, and for the purpose of the safety and security of our citizens. Otherwise, TraceTogether data is indeed to be used only for contact tracing and for the purpose of fighting the COVID situation,” he added.

Meanwhile, freelance journalist Kirsten Han pointed out in her Facebook post earlier today that even the case of activist Jolovan Wham holding up a smiley sign was classified as a crime by the authorities.

Mr Wham was charged in the District Court on 23 November last year for taking a photo with a smiley face in front of a police station and a placard outside of the court on two separate occasions.

Mr Wham held the smiley sign at Toa Payoh Central in April last year in support of two youth climate activists investigated by the police. He has said that he was only there a couple of seconds, which was long enough to take the photo before moving off.

His case, however, induced the possibility of authorities considering any act as a crime, even when one does not think that they have committed any offence.

“From a civil society POV [point of view], this means that whenever an investigation is opened into an activist – which can stem from nonviolent, mundane actions – the police have the power, if they want to, to access their TraceTogether data and see who they have been in close contact with,” said Ms Han.

Prior to Minister Tan’s announcement, there was no declaration made under TraceTogether’s data privacy section informing users that their data can be obtained by the police.

It only stated that “your data will only be used for COVID-19 contact tracing” and that “any data shared with MOH [Ministry of Health] will only be used solely for contact tracing of persons possibly exposed to COVID-19”.

TOC notes that TraceTogether’s data privacy section has since been altered to carry Mr Tan’s recent announcement in Parliament.

“TraceTogether data may be used in circumstances where citizen safety and security is or has been affected. Authorised Police officers may invoke Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) powers to request users to upload their TraceTogether data for criminal investigations. The Singapore Police Force is empowered under the CPC to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations,” it stated.

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