Singapore—In his speech in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 2), Pritam Singh, the Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party and the Leader of the Opposition, made it clear that it supports the law that restricts the use of the contact tracing technology TraceTogether.
After a debate that lasted five hours, the law was passed. Data from the TraceTogether app or token may only be used in specific grave offences, which includes terrorism, drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping and serious sexual offences such as rape.
Mr Singh commented on the public outcry that occurred early in January after Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said in Parliament that the Singapore Police Force (SPF) is empowered under the CPC to obtain data for criminal investigations, including data from contact tracing.
“Why was there disquiet, unhappiness and cynicism in some quarters at the Government’s belated acknowledgement that TraceTogether can be used for criminal investigations…?
It comes down to a question of trust, the perceived lack of empathy over the public’s privacy concerns and discomfort with sharing mobile phone data with the authorities without sufficient assurances.”
And with regards to the erosion of public trust, the Leader of the Opposition had two questions that he wanted to ask of the Government.
“First: what was the exact date on which the Minister in charge of Smart Nation knew that section 20 of the Criminal Procedure Code would apply to TraceTogether?
Secondly, and in connection with this, was Mr Christopher De Souza’s parliamentary question submitted before or after the Minister became aware of Section 20 of the Criminal Procedure Code?”
As for the WP’s position on the matter, Mr Singh stated that the country is in “as close to a wartime scenario as most Singaporeans have seen in our lifetime” due to the Covid pandemic, and that the essential question for Parliament is whether the use of TraceTogether data for grave offences “could compromise the fight against COVID-19 and jeopardise contact-tracing.”
He then pointed out while the data from TraceTogether is vital for contact tracing, “we need to ask whether TraceTogether data is vital for solving these seven categories of crimes,” given the abundance of other tools that are employed in criminal investigations.
And as for the party’s position on the Bill that would limit the use of TraceTogether, he said that the WP believes the country’s top priority is to address the health and economic effects of the pandemic.
But added, “a Singaporeans’ right to privacy is better protected with this Bill than without it.”
However, on a personal level, Mr Singh said that he would prefer “aligning the use of TraceTogether with the Government’s original emphatic assurances that TraceTogether data would be used for contact tracing only,” due to residual privacy concerns he has heard from some members of the public.
Mr Singh ended his speech by calling on the Government to restore the trust that has eroded.
“The first thing the Government could do to counter cynicism and create trust is to be forthcoming about what data it collects and the safeguards to prevent the misuse of information in its possession….
If the Government is forthcoming with such information, it will engender confidence that the Government has nothing to hide and that its requests are for legitimate purposes in the interests of Singaporeans.”
The Leader of the Opposition’s speech can be found in full here.
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