Singapore’s Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan revealed in Parliament on Monday (4 January) that the police can obtain data from the national contact tracing programme TraceTogether for criminal investigations.
Mr Tan explained that police is empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to get hold of any data, and that includes the data gathered from TraceTogether.
“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, he said, 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.
However, Mr Tan’s latest announcement contradicts the Government’s earlier promise, in which it said that TT will be solely used for contact tracing in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
During a Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) press conference on 8 June last year, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the MTF, and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan both stressed that data from the TraceTogether app and token would not be used for anything else other than for the purposes of contact tracing.
“There is no intention to use a TraceTogether app, or TraceTogether token, as a means of picking up breaches of existing rules. There is no intention at all. So the app and the device, plus SafeEntry combined, are meant to provide us with information in a timely manner so that we can do speedy, fast, and effective contact tracing. It is not meant as a way to detect offences and breaches of rules,” Mr Wong said.
Adding to Mr Wong’s clarification, Dr Balakrishnan said: “TraceTogether app, TraceTogether running on a device, and the data generated is purely for contact tracing. Period.”
The ministers said this after a journalist asked if data collected from TraceTogether app, token and SafeEntry can be used to prosecute citizens for offences like not wearing a mask.
Before that, on 5 June last year, Dr Balakrishnan gave the same response to MP Murali Pillai in Parliament when the latter questioned the confidentiality of the data collected.
The Minister reiterated — following a written response — that TraceTogether data is “stored only on your own phone in the first instance, and accessed by MOH only if the individual tests positive for COVID-19”.
The data, said Dr Balakrishnan, “is only used for contact tracing”, adding that safeguards “including encryption” are present to protect the data “from malicious hackers”.
Should close contact data be required for contact tracing, he said, “only a small group of authorised officers in MOH will have access to it” and “all the public sector data protection rules will also apply”.
Upon learning that data from TraceTogether can now be accessed by the Police for criminal investigations, some netizens have highlighted about Mr Wong’s and Mr Balakrishnan’s earlier assurance, according to a report by The Straits Times.
Following this, Mr Wong’s office clarified in a different report by ST on Wednesday (6 January) that the minister did not say that such data would solely be used for contact tracing purposes, but rather that it has no intention to be used “as a means of picking up breaches of existing rules”.