Article image Singapore admits police can access contact-tracing data

Singapore admits police can access contact-tracing data

The Singapore government says the TraceTogether Covid-19 contact-tracing app, has been accessed by police for personal data.

"Singapore Police Force is empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code to obtain any data and that includes the Trace Together [TT] data, for criminal investigations", Desmond Tan, Singapore's minister of state for home affairs, told members of parliament on Monday.

The TraceTogether scheme, one of the most widely used in any country, has raised privacy fears but authorities have said the data is encrypted, stored locally and only tapped by authorities if individuals test positive for COVID-19.

He noted, too, that the application of the CPC is not unique to TraceTogether data."Other forms of sensitive data, for example, phone or banking records - which may be protected by specific privacy laws - are also nevertheless subjected to the same provision of the CPC."In the case of TraceTogether, the police can only obtain the data by requiring a person involved in or assisting in criminal investigation to produce either his mobile smartphone or his TraceTogether token".

And so far, TraceTogether data has been used by the police once, in a murder investigation, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said. "Neither the app nor the token tracks a user's location", Balakrishnan stated in Parliament, adding that he had forgotten that the CPC applied to contact tracing data.

The promises went on, including assurances that a very small number of contact tracers would have access to the data. Frankly, I had not thought of the CPC when I spoke earlier.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Government to "immediately firewall" TraceTogether (TT) data "away from the police, prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel", according to a statement the global advocacy group released on Tuesday (Jan 5).

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Government Technology Agency (GovTech) staff demonstrate Singapore's new contact-tracing smarthphone app called TraceTogether.

"We want to be completely above board and transparent", he said.

Reiterating that the CPC was "not in my mind" when he made his previous statements, Dr Balakrishnan replied to Mr Leong that the Government had decided that it was "better to be upfront" after having discussions "over the last few weeks" as to whether the Government "should, in fact, change the law or whether we continue as we are now". "This power - on the part of the police - to access data must be exercised judiciously, and with utmost restraint".

"This damage could undermine its future efforts, given its reiteration that Singapore has only managed to keep Covid-19 under control due to the people's trust in the Government's measures".

"A by-the-way or incidental use of TraceTogether should be resisted because it is far more important to have many people to use the program", he said.

Responding to the recent events, HRW's Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson, who is based in Thailand, has urged the Government to act quickly to protect Singapore residents' right to privacy by "immediately firewalling" TT data away from law enforcement.

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