Any decision on ceasing TraceTogether should not be 'politicised': Vivian

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PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information, Yahoo News Singapore
PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information, Yahoo News Singapore

SINGAPORE — The decision on whether to cease the use of TraceTogether (TT) should be guided by science and not politics, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday (20 August).

In a recent interview with newswire Reuters, Dr Balakrishnan was asked about his previous comments that the digital tracker, which aids contact tracing in COVID-19 outbreaks, would be retired once the pandemic goes away. The minister was then asked to clarify the government's current thinking on its use, given that the coronavirus has not gone away. 

"I would still stick by that commitment and let the science, the doctors, tell us. This should not be a political decision, this should not be politicised. Let the professionals tell us whether contact tracing to that level is necessary or helpful, and whether it secures the safety of our people," said the 60-year-old, who was formerly Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative.

He added, "The opposition, in fact all the parties, at least the sensible parties, have supported the need for contact tracing and the use of new and innovative technologies which can enable us to make society safer, and enable us to carry on with our way of life."

The use of TT is now required for entry into many locations across Singapore such as supermarkets, shopping malls, food & beverage outlets and places of worship. According to the TT website, "once contact tracing ceases, all personal contact tracing data that was collected will be deleted as soon as practicable."

TT was rolled out under the Smart Nation Initiative. Josephine Teo is now the Minister-in-charge of it, following a Cabinet reshuffle in April.

Controversy ensued in January when it was revealed in parliament that the Singapore police are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain TT data for criminal investigation

This despite Dr Balakrishnan's comments at a Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) press conference in June last year that “(the) TraceTogether app, TraceTogether running on a device, and the data generated (are) purely for contact tracing. Period.” 

He later took full responsibility for the ensuing "consternation and anxiety caused", claiming that he had not considered the CPC when he made his comments. 

Dr Balakrishnan and Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam later stated that police use of TT data would be limited to probes into seven categories of serious offences.

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