TraceTogether data used by police in one murder case: Vivian Balakrishnan

(PHOTOS: Getty Images, screengrab from TraceTogether website)
(PHOTOS: Getty Images, screengrab from TraceTogether website)

SINGAPORE — TraceTogether (TT) data has been used by police investigators in one murder case, said Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, on Tuesday (5 December).

Replying to a query raised by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai in Parliament on the number of instances in which the police have tapped on TT data, Dr Balakrishnan said, “As far as I'm aware, so far, I think there's been only one in which it involved a murder case.

“But I'm not privy to operational details and I shouldn't be. And therefore I'm not in a position to comment further on the investigations,” added Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Affairs Minister.

The use of TT data beyond COVID-19 contact tracing purpose has been the subject of much debate by netizens over the past two days.

On Monday, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told MPs that the police are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain TT data for criminal investigations.

The announcement apparently contradicted earlier assurances by the government last year that TT data would be used solely for COVID-19 contact tracing.

At a virtual press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce on 8 June, Balakrishnan said, “(The) TraceTogether app, TraceTogether running on a device, and the data generated (are) purely for contact tracing. Period.”

Responding to a query by MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) on Monday, Tan said, “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.”

Later that day, the TT privacy statement was updated to reflect this information.

On Tuesday, Balakrishnan rose up to clarify to the House that he had not considered the CPC when he earlier spoke about TT data privacy safeguards.

“Frankly, and I think members know me well, I'm always very frank. Frankly, I had not thought of the CPC when I spoke earlier,” said.

“After I realised that the CPC applied to this, I did have sleepless nights wondering: Should I persuade my colleagues to change the law?

“But having thought about it, discussed, consulted people both within and outside this House, I have come to the conclusion that right now we are doing well...I think we are still on the right track,” said Balakrishnan.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, who is a lawyer, also spoke on the issue on Tuesday. He said, “I would actually support the use of TraceTogether for police investigations because not only is it necessarily helpful in finding out who may have been in the vicinity of a crime, for example, but it can also help exonerate people who are wrongly accused.

“So for example if you are accused and TraceTogether will tell you who was around you, it may help you establish an alibi.”

Vikram suggested that people who are accused or assisting in investigations should request that the police check their TraceTogether data to see if they have any alibis at the time of an offence.

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