TraceTogether data can be used for criminal investigations: Desmond Tan

(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — The Singapore police are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code to obtain TraceTogether data for criminal investigations, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan in Parliament on Monday (4 January).

He was responding to a question raised by Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza on whether data from TraceTogether (TT) – a digital system meant to help with COVID-19 contact tracing – would be used for criminal probes, and the legal provisions and safeguards in place for the use of such data.

“The government is the custodian of the TT data submitted by the individuals and stringent measures are put in place to safeguard this personal data. Examples of these measures include only allowing authorised officers to access the data, using such data only for authorised purposes and storing the data on a secure data platform,” said Tan.

He added that public officers who recklessly or knowingly disclose such data without authorisation, or misuse the data, face fines of up to $5,000, jail terms of up to two years, or both.

In a follow-up question, Aljunied GRC MP Gerald Giam asked, “Now that the government has said that they might actually use TraceTogether data for police investigations, does this not violate the TraceTogether privacy statement, which says that any data shared with the (Ministry of Health) will only be used solely for contact tracing of persons, possibly exposed to COVID-19?”

In response, Tan noted that the government does not “preclude the use of TraceTogether data in circumstances where citizens safety and security is or has been affected” and noted that this applies to other forms of data as well.

“Authorised police officers may invoke then the Criminal Procedure obtain this data for the purpose of criminal investigation, and for the purpose of the safety and security of our citizens. But otherwise, TraceTogether data is to be used only for contact tracing and for the purpose of fighting the COVID situation,” he added.

During a Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) press conference in June last year, MTF co-chair Lawrence Wong and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan both emphasised that the TT app and token are not meant to be used to detect offences and breaches of rules, but rather for effective contact tracing.

Wong said, “There is no intention to use a TraceTogether app, or TraceTogether token, as a means of picking up breaches of existing rules. The app and the device, plus SafeEntry combined, are meant to provide us with information in a timely manner so that we can do speedy, fast, and effective contact tracing.”

Echoing this, Dr Balakrishnan said, “(The) TraceTogether app, TraceTogether running on a device, and the data generated (are) purely for contact tracing. Period.”

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