Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Vivian Balakrishnan should have disclosed the oversight regarding how TraceTogether data can be used in police investigations “more promptly and more directly”, said Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Leong Mun Wai.
In a Facebook post on Thursday (7 January), Mr Leong said that while he has “no reason to doubt” that Dr Balakrishnan did not think of the Criminal Procedure Code when he made his statement in June last year, it took a Parliamentary question answered by the Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan for Dr Balakrishnan to clarify on the matter the next day.
It was revealed on Monday that the Singapore police are empowered to obtain any data under the CPC, including data from TraceTogether.
Mr Tan was responding to Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza’s question on whether data from TraceTogether will be used for criminal investigations and what legal provisions and safeguards are present in using such data.
He noted that authorised police officers are allowed to access TraceTogether data for authorised purposes.
The Singapore government previously assured the public that TraceTogether will only be used for COVID-19 contact tracing purposes.
In a multi-ministry taskforce press conference in June last year, Dr Balakrishnan and co-chair of the COVID-19 taskforce Minister Lawrence Wong claimed that TraceTogether is not a tracking device and that only a “small number of personnel have access to the data for contact tracing purposes”.
“He had “many weeks” of consideration, sleepless nights, and thought of asking his Cabinet colleagues to change the law,” said Mr Leong, referencing remarks made by Dr Balakrishnan in Parliament on Tuesday.
The PSP MP said that the delay “has reduced the value” of Dr Balakrishnan’s “frank admission” and has subsequently “damaged public trust”.
“Transparency relates not only to full and frank disclosure, but also to timeliness,” he stressed.
A “proper process” would have ensured the restoration of said public trust, said Mr Leong, and this can be done via a more “thorough review pertaining to the use of personal data collected for specific purposes”.
“Assuming that Singaporeans agree to retaining the police’s broad powers under the CPC, the Government can still put in place criteria before peoples’ personal data can be accessed by the Singapore Police Force (“SPF”) under the CPC,” he explained.
The Government, said Mr Leong, “could enact the criteria that data access would only be for serious crimes and through the devices of the persons under investigation” as illustrated by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
Mr Leong also noted that he will be filing a parliamentary question to Mr Shanmugam asking to define the “very serious offences” under which police “would be allowed to access data collected under the TraceTogether and SafeEntry programmes and whether he would enshrine these data access requirements in legislation”.
The NCMP also criticised the idea that the oversight regarding the CPC or the broad powers given to the SPF under the CPC is acceptable due to that it does not affect the majority of the population.
“Democracy is about not neglecting the rights of the minority. In fact, it is specifically for that reason that democracy has enjoyed wide support because you never know when you fall into the minority,” he said.