Singapore — Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stepped forward on Tuesday (Feb 2) to take full responsibility for the TraceTogether mistake.
The issue was brought to light after Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said in Parliament on Jan 4 that the police could obtain TraceTogether data for criminal investigations and that it was not solely for contact tracing purposes as was initially promised.
Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, said in Parliament that the Government made an error in not stating that data from the TraceTogether contact-tracing system is not exempt from the Criminal Procedure Code and added that he regrets the consternation and anxiety caused.
As Dr Balakrishnan introduced draft laws that, if passed, will spell out how the Government is allowed to use contact-tracing data, he said: “Perhaps I was so enamoured by what I thought was the ingenuity and brilliance of this that I got blindsided.”
Before the issue on TraceTogether data usage was brought up, a privacy statement on the TraceTogether website had said the data would only be used “for contact tracing purposes”. The site was updated on Jan 4 to clarify that the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) applies to all data under Singapore’s jurisdiction.
Facing backlash from Singaporeans, Dr Balakrishnan’s initially said on Jan 5, also in Parliament, that he had not thought of the CPC earlier and that he had “overlooked” it.
In his speech on Tuesday (Feb 2), Dr Balakrishnan quoted Professor Ang Peng Hwa from the Nanyang Technological University, who raised an ethical dilemma in choosing between the right to protect public health by protecting TraceTogether data and the equally important right to protect public safety from serious crimes, according to todayonline.com.
Dr Balakrishnan brought up the example where a TraceTogether token might be found during police investigations into a kidnapped child. “It would be untenable — to adopt a purist ideological stance and deliberately refuse, to check that data and pursue all leads available.”
He also emphasised that TraceTogether does not collect geolocation data or movement data, and only collects proximity data that is purged automatically after 25 days. He added that the Government also intends to deactivate TraceTogether, along with other digital contact tracing programmes, once the pandemic ebbs. /TISG
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