The recent revelation of TraceTogether data use in criminal investigations has set the internet abuzz, with many arguing that the sudden change in the use of such data eroded their trust in the government, while some opined that it should not be a “big deal” if the person does not get involved in any crimes.
Following that, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan took to Facebook on Friday (15 January) to explain why the use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations matters to all Singaporeans, including those who have not engaged in criminal conduct.
In his post, Dr Chee brought up the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which is an Act that prevents the online spread of falsehoods, such as misleading information or false statements of fact.
“Post-legislation, the Act was used by the government even to insist that it’s interpretation of statistical data is the true and correct one, leaving the ‘offending’ party to seek redress through the courts if it disputes the state’s assertion – a process that is thoroughly onerous in terms of funds and time,” he wrote.
“Then there’s the complete shutdown of space for political dissent – and even for not-so-political actions. Name me one other government that prosecutes a lone activist carrying a placard with Mr Smiley on it,” said Dr Chee, referring to the case of activist Jolovan Wham being charged by the authorities for holding up a smiley sign at Toa Payoh Central last April.
The politician believes that all these, including the use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations, would eventually “cast a long and pernicious shadow on Singaporeans’ psyche”.
“When people know they are being watched and sanctioned, self-censorship becomes the norm. It becomes baked into society’s culture,” he noted.
Dr Chee added that it would become “really dangerous” when Singaporeans start to think and behave as if such censorship is necessary.
“Through decades of such inculcation, thinking among the people has become stunted and non-rational. Anyone and everyone who colours outside the lines becomes a subject for censure and punishment,” he remarked.
Though Dr Chee acknowledged the need of having law and order in modern society, he noted that the rule of law and the respect for order need not result in the kind of censorship implemented in Singapore.
“The freedom to think and express ourselves, to peacefully assemble and to form associations are not niceties to have. They are rights indelibly written into our Constitution. They are, obviously, not absolute but they may also not be expurgated just because the ruling party finds it politically advantageous to do so,” he added.
The SDP leader went on to emphasise that these rights are not only constitutionally mandated, but are crucial to the nation’s continuous progress.
He noted that the dismal state of the country and the citizens’ “collective mind-rot” were resulted from the decades of control imposed by the government, which has caused “worryingly deficient outcomes”.
“On the future of our economy in particular, I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll repeat it here: political rights and economic development occupy two sides of the same coin. You can’t have the latter without the former, especially not at this juncture of our nation’s development given the exponential rise of technology,” he added.
Dr Chee opined that Singapore will not be able to compete in the world of innovation by having such a “widespread and deep-seated censorship” where the clash of ideas and challenge of orthodoxies are the norm.
“To be very sure, we are on the last legs of an unsustainable, rentier economy propped up by an ossified political system long past its expiry date.
“No matter how many foreigners we bring in and regardless of the number of them we convert to citizens, with a political culture that threatens rather than inspires and stymies rather than motivates, this country is on a gradual but inexorable decline,” he remarked.
Dr Chee noted that pushing back against the use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations, the POFMAs, and the criminalisation of political action would be a “necessary start” for the nation, but much more efforts would still need to be done.