Singapore — The Government’s move to issue the people with wearable contact tracing devices was described as a cause for concern on Sunday (June 7) by the opposition Singapore People’s Party (SPP).
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, had announced on June 5 that a wearable device for contact tracing may be issued to the people in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.
He explained that technical difficulties with the contact tracing app, TraceTogether, have been limiting its effectiveness. He said: “The app does not appear to work as well on iOS or Apple devices.”
Using Bluetooth technology, TraceTogether tracks nearby phones with the app. In this way, the app helps identify anyone in close contact with an infected individual. The problem, however, according to Dr Balakrishnan, is that Apple devices suspend the use of Bluetooth scanning when the app is running in the background. This technical difficulty is the main reason why the state has not called for the mandatory use of TraceTogether.
To date, it is said that approximately 1.5 million users have downloaded TraceTogether, or only about 25% of the population.
In a bid to accelerate contact tracing, Dr Balakrishnan proposed wearable contact tracing devices to make up for the inefficiency of TraceTogether. This has since sparked a public outcry over data privacy.
The SPP condemned this proposed initiative in a statement on Sunday (June 7), arguing that “the mere fact that a pandemic exists does not amount to a blank cheque to allow for unwarranted intrusion into seclusions”.
The party especially highlighted concerns over collection of private data and mentioned incidents in 2018 and 2019 when information online was easily stolen.
The party also highlighted the common narrative adopted to not oppose government surveillance, that one should not fear if they have nothing to hide, “is riddled with fallacies”. Wearable devices are deemed as infringing on fundamental, individual rights.
Ultimately, SPP believes that such “drastic and draconian measures” which are seen as “extraordinary measures”, “do require extraordinary evidence and justification” by the state.
Many of those commenting on the post shared SPP’s sentiments on the matter.
Local artiste Hossan Leong, also commenting on Dr Balakrishnan’s Facebook post, stated that “wearing a device is one step too far”.
Currently, there is also a petition against the wearable device on change.org initiated by Wilson Low. He wrote that such a move takes Singapore one step closer to “sealing our fate as a police state”.
Privacy – An issue for the coming GE?
Over the years, concerns over data privacy have been on the rise in the country. The data breaches mentioned earlier have cast doubt on the ability of the state to safeguard data stored online and protect the privacy of the individual.
The proposal on the use of wearable contract tracing devices has exacerbated these concerns and has blurred the lines between individual privacy and public good even further – contributing to greater public dissent.
Dr Balakrishnan has reaffirmed that this wearable contact tracing device “is NOT a tracking device … our contract tracing app and device does NOT track location”. He adds that “we believe we are actually being far more protective of privacy than in many other jurisdictions”.
Increasing divisiveness over public good and individual right, especially in light of the pandemic, may set the stage for the issue of privacy to be prominent in the coming elections. /TISG
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