Singapore—Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza (PAP – Holland–Bukit Timah GRC), who asked in Parliament last week whether data collected under TraceTogether will be used for criminal investigations, has said that he’s glad the Government is clarifying the issue, and also welcomed the news that it will fast-track a law that would define the seven types of serious crimes wherein the contact tracing data would be used.
On Jan 4, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan had said that the Singapore Police Force (SPF) is empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain data for criminal investigations, including data from TraceTogether.
This raised privacy and security concerns among Singaporeans, especially since Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had said in June 2020 that TraceTogether would be used only for contact tracing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
He admitted in Parliament on Jan 5 that he had not thought of the CPC when he spoke the previous June, that he had realized later that he had “misspoken”, and that this had caused him “sleepless nights”.
Later, K. Shanmugam, the country’s Law and Home Affairs Minister, said that the data would only be used for “very serious offences”.
On Friday (Jan 8), it was announced that a law defining seven types of serious offences for which the data from TraceTogether may be utilized in investigations by the police would be fast-tracked. It will be introduced at the next Parliament sitting next month on a Certificate of Urgency.
These offences include: the use of dangerous weapons and armed robbery, terrorism-related offences, crimes wherein a victim is seriously hurt or killed, drug trafficking offences, escape from legal custody, kidnapping, and serious sexual offences.
“I am glad that the Government has clarified this issue. The scope of usage of TraceTogether data and its role in criminal investigations have been clearly enunciated. We can all benefit from having a common understanding of the Government’s position on this issue.”
He called the news of legislation to delineate contact tracing data usage “welcome” and praised the fact that the matter was treated with urgency by the authorities, writing that it is a reflection of the “Government’s responsiveness towards policy-making.”
“Having a law that clearly sets out the circumstances in which the data can be used will help to build trust in our contact-tracing systems and assuage people’s concerns over the purposes that the authorities will use such data for,” he added, taking note that the policies that had to be put in place during the pandemic had needed to be “developed in double-quick time.”
“Ultimately, Singaporeans want a safe Singapore: one safe from COVID-19, and one safe from crime. I believe this open discussion about how we use TraceTogether to achieve both purposes has helped us better strike this balance,” the MP wrote.