International COVID 19 PM Lee says Gov’t mistaken in not being upfront with TraceTogether

PM Lee says Gov’t mistaken in not being upfront with TraceTogether

'Tension between individual rights and need to work together as a society'

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Singapore—“I think we made a mistake,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said to Ms Karishma Vaswani in a BBC interview aired over the weekend, with regard to the Government not having been upfront concerning the data from the TraceTogether platforms.

While Ms Vaswani spoke to PM Lee about a wide range of topics including tensions between the United States and China on the BBC’s Talking Business Asia, many of the topics discussed revolved around the Covid-19 pandemic. 

And one of those topics was TraceTogether.

Last January, the Government received a backlash after Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said in Parliament that the police are empowered under the CPC to obtain data for criminal investigations, including data from contact tracing. 

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Many people expressed their concerns over security and privacy issues, and the news that the Government was allowing this was reported all over the world.

Mr Tan’s announcement was in stark contrast to what Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said in June last year, that TraceTogether would be used solely for contact tracing.

When Ms Vaswani asked PM Lee about this, he clarified that legislation has been passed saying that access to contact tracing information is limited to certain serious classes of crime, such as terrorism, murder, kidnapping, rape, violent crimes

The interviewer then asked, “There is a concern and we have read this from online forums and your own citizens about how wide-reaching this app could be, and that if in the first instance, there was a sense that perhaps not the whole truth came out, that could you then use it again, for some other purposes?”

PM Lee replied, “I think we made a mistake. This app was designed for contact tracing and for pandemic purposes. But under the law, the police have powers to ask for information for criminal investigations and police investigations, and it covered this app. 

We should have said so upfront. We did not, and we came out and said so. When one of our own MPs raised that question, we had to come out and explain this. I think there was anxiety, there was a reaction, quite a strong one. And after the pandemic is over, we will delete the information. I think people have accepted that, and we will be able to live with this.”

Before moving on to other subjects, Ms Vaswani asked the Prime Minister if the pandemic is a “gateway” to people coming to accept surveillance more and more.

He replied that gathering more information is part of the modern world, and not just the pandemic. People are getting more used to it, while at the same time, they must be protected from having their information used against them.

“I think that there is a certain tension between individual rights and privacies, and our need to work together as a society and a community and to trust one another,” he added.

The transcript of PM Lee’s interview may be found here.

/TISG

Read also: PM Lee: Clash between US and China more likely than 5 years ago

PM Lee: Clash between US and China more likely than 5 years ago

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