Singapore — Opposition Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Dr Tan Cheng Bock has released a statement on the deeper implications of the People’s Action Party (PAP) going back on its promises when handling data received by the TraceTogether initiative.
On Sunday (Jan 10), Dr Tan took to PSP’s Facebook page to release a statement on “ministers backtracking on their TraceTogether promises”.
“We are deeply troubled by what is happening in our nation today — the PAP is backtracking on its words and since Monday (Jan 4), the Singapore Police Force is empowered under the CPC (Criminal Procedure Code) to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data for criminal investigations,” said Dr Tan.
He explained that such a move is not aligned with how the current healthcare crises are being handled. “The government asked us to adopt TraceTogether apps and tokens to deal with the pandemic, but today, it allows this very data for investigations under the CPC.”
He noted that there are more profound implications to such actions such as discouraging members of the public from using the TraceTogether app or token altogether which will “set us back in our efforts to fight the spread of Covid-19”.
Dr Tan added that there are new strains of the virus, and as long as Covid-19 or the new variants are around, the fight to contain the virus is not over.
“Backtracking is not good politics, and it erodes the confidence and social compact of our citizens in our political institutions,” said Dr Tan. “There is much disquiet on how the government is handling sensitive information, and we are concerned that the TraceTogether app unnecessarily exposes users’ locations and infringes on their privacy.”
He called for singularity in purpose when it comes to contact tracing and fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. “We fear that the government’s latest move may result in a loss of confidence in our systems.”
On Friday (Jan 8), the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) issued a press statement acknowledging its “error in not stating that data from TraceTogether is not exempt from the Criminal Procedure Code”.
SNDGO listed seven categories of serious offences in its list after the minister was queried in Parliament earlier in the week, said Dr Tan. He was referring to Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
Fitness of purpose of TraceTogether
Dr Tan presented three observations how the fitness of the purpose of the TraceTogether systems for tracing criminal activity could be upheld. “It is conceivable that a terror suspect could very well forge a different set of metadata (i.e. Name and NRIC), or the user might even carry several handsets to throw the investigators off the scent,” he said.
“Secondly, the system was designed to store data for only 25 days — in the case of tracing terror suspects, would the government be storing the data for a longer period because the current period of 25 days may not be sufficient?”
Dr Tan’s third point was on surveillance. “Does the government have any intention of actively monitoring data for those who are in the watchlist of the Internal Security Department? If so, what are the parameters or modalities of such surveillance?”
He reiterated that extending TraceTogether data’s powers are not aligned to the “original spirit” of what the dataset was intended for. “The move shared by Dr Balakrishnan to establish guidelines for the use of these data under CPC will not ease the mind of people nor help to rebuild trust.”
Dr Tan highlighted that Covid-19 tracing data should strictly be used for fighting the pandemic and nothing else.
“Hence the PSP calls for the government to protect the privacy, the integrity of our contact tracing systems and restore public confidence.” /TISG