Ministers are not paid millions of dollars and staffed with “a multi-million-dollar team” for them to make “honest mistakes” or make “more promises”, said Red Dot United (RDU) party on Friday (8 January), urging the Government to rule out the use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations.

RDU’s statement came after it was revealed in Parliament earlier this week that TraceTogether data can be obtained by the Singapore police under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Vivian Balakrishnan told the House that he “had not thought of the CPC” when he said at a press conference last June that TraceTogether data would be used “purely for contact tracing”.

“We do not pay our Ministers millions of dollars and staff them with a multi-million-dollar team for them to say that they have made honest mistakes or to make more promises over promises they have already broken,” said RDU in a statement.

The opposition party opined that the Government had made its earlier assurances on the TraceTogether data use due to the low take-up rate of the app among residents.

RDU brought up the Singapore-based independent pollster Blackbox Research’s survey which indicated that 45 per cent of respondents did not download TraceTogether because they “did not want the Government tracing their movements”.

“Academics and analysts were suggesting that the reason for the low take-up rate was a trust issue,” it added.

Citing the Australian Government’s move last year to reject requests from police and other law enforcement authorities to access data within the country’s COVIDSafe app, RDU urged the Singapore Government to rule out the use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations.

The party stressed that such a move is important to maintain public trust in the nation’s COVID-19 contact tracing system.

“This will send a clear message that TraceTogether is only a public health tool, meant to assist those that have contracted the coronavirus and to assist the pandemic response team in their work to contact others who may have been put at risk,” it stated.

RDU chief Ravi Philemon said that it would be “hugely problematic” to give the police the powers to extract TraceTogether data for criminal investigations.

“Giving them [the police] access to an overly intrusive contact-tracing tool created especially to fight a pandemic comes at a cost. The cost of many people boycotting the use of the program and our COVID-19 crisis management suffering as a result,” he noted.

RDU also pointed out that allowing the use of TraceTogether data for reasons unrelated to the COVID-19 could lead to the public “casts doubts on the Government’s intentions”.

“This can have ripple effects on public trust in the contact tracing program, with suspicions that the Government is trying to implement a mass-surveillance initiative that goes beyond the ambit of managing the pandemic.

“How can the Government then expect citizens to trust its words when it says that vaccination is safe and necessary?” it asserted.

Govt to pass legislation to ensure TraceTogether data can only be used for serious crimes, RDU says it remains “a directive contravention” to earlier reassurances

Shortly after RDU released its statement, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) announced that the Government will introduce legislation setting out seven categories of serious offences for which TraceTogether data can be used for criminal investigations.

These include offences related to terrorism, drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping and serious sexual offences such as rape.

“The data cannot be used in the investigations, inquiries or court proceedings of any other offence besides these seven categories,” SNDGO stressed.

SNDGO said that the proposed law will be introduced in the next Parliament sitting in February on a Certificate of Urgency.

“Although this is still a direct contravention to earlier reassurances from authorities, RDU acknowledges that some legally binding restraint will now be applied to the use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations,” Mr Philemon told TOC.

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