Wednesday, 6 January 2021

TraceTogether data will be used with utmost restraint, say ministers Balakrishnan and Shanmugam in Parliament

Police will access TraceTogether data to help investigate only very serious crimes, Parliament told
COVID-19 contact tracing programme to be stood down when pandemic ends
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2021

The data collected by TraceTogether will be used with utmost restraint, two ministers said yesterday, as they underscored the importance of maintaining trust in the contact tracing system to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Even though the police have the powers to access the data for criminal investigations, they will do so only for very serious offences, such as murder, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament.



Their remarks come after Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan affirmed, in response to a parliamentary question, that TraceTogether data is not precluded from provisions under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) that allow the police to access data needed in criminal investigations.

This had sparked criticism, with some pointing to remarks made in June by Dr Balakrishnan, who oversees the Smart Nation drive, that TraceTogether data would be used "purely for contact tracing, period". "Frankly, I had not thought of the CPC, when I spoke earlier," he admitted yesterday.

He added that he was mindful of the trust reposed in the Government, adding that the cooperation of Singaporeans and their willingness to use TraceTogether have been key to Singapore's fight against Covid-19.

"The reason I asked Speaker's permission to make this clarification is precisely because of this. If there's disquiet, if there's uncertainty, we must answer it, and I must answer it openly, transparently," he said.


Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said it was important to clarify the issue, noting it had caused consternation. He and Workers' Party MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) also said TraceTogether should be widely adopted in the interest of public health.


Citing that 78 per cent of people here have chosen to download the TraceTogether app or collect the token, Dr Balakrishnan said the Government was conscious of the need to protect the personal privacy of these users, and had built it into the design of the program.

He assured Singaporeans that the app collects only Bluetooth proximity data and not GPS location data, and said: "The TraceTogether app and the token were not designed to allow any government agency to track the user."


But TraceTogether data is not exempt from the provisions under Section 20 of the CPC, said Dr Balakrishnan, noting that it would not be reasonable to say that certain classes of data should be "out of reach of the police", especially if they could potentially give leads on, say, terrorism activities and save lives. He disclosed that TraceTogether data had been used in a murder case.

If data is not used in such instances, it would not sit well with Singaporeans at large, added Mr Shanmugam. He also said that the police would delete the data if it was no longer needed for use in court or for trial purposes.


Dr Balakrishnan also said that when the pandemic is over, the TraceTogether programme would be stood down, and much of the data would be deleted.

He said the Ministry of Health may retain epidemiological data, but that it should be stripped of identifying details.


He added: "We do not take the trust of Singaporeans lightly. We cannot prevail in the battle against Covid-19 if Singaporeans did not trust the public health authorities, and the Government of Singapore...

"I want to again assure Singaporeans that your confidence is not misplaced. We will protect your privacy."
















Police will restrict use of TraceTogether data to 'very serious offences', says Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2021

The police will restrict the use of data collected in Singapore's national contact tracing programme TraceTogether to "very serious offences", Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Addressing concerns raised in Parliament about the data being accessed for criminal investigations, the Minister said: "While that requirement is not in the legislation, it will be carefully considered within the police, and discretion will be exercised in seeking this information."

Yesterday, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan also revealed to the House that data meant for contact tracing had been used once in a murder investigation.

He made his unscheduled remarks a day after Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said the police had the power under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain TraceTogether data in carrying out a criminal investigation.

Mr Tan's statement prompted widespread reactions online.


After Dr Balakrishnan's remarks about the matter, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked under what circumstances the police would call on TraceTogether data.

The Workers' Party chief said: "Some clarification of this would be quite important for members of the public because everybody wants TraceTogether to succeed, in view of the public health considerations. But this particular point has caused consternation and that also probably explains why Minister has decided to make this clarification."

In his response to Mr Singh, Mr Shanmugam noted that the police have a duty to use the powers vested in them under the CPC.

"To give you an example, let's say there is a murder... and information is available on the TraceTogether token," the minister said.

"If police chose not to seek that information, you can imagine how the victim's family and indeed the rest of Singapore might react to that situation. You could even argue that there can be a judicial review application in such a situation."


On the murder case where TraceTogether data was used, Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, said he was not privy to operational details and not in a position to comment further on the investigation.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), chairman of the Home Affairs and Law Government Parliamentary Committee, noted that in the general data protection regulations of the European Union, the police may access personal data in relation to detection, prevention, investigation as well as prosecution for criminal offences.

"So, in a sense, there is parity in relation to the Singapore situation with that of the situation in the EU," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan also brought up a dispute between technology giant Apple and the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to highlight the potential imbalance between the authorities' investigative power and an individual's right to privacy.

In 2016, the FBI took Apple to court after the company declined to create new software for it to unlock an iPhone recovered from a terrorist who, in a December 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California, killed 14 people and injured 22. The FBI later found a third party to assist in unlocking the iPhone.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) said he supported the use of TraceTogether in such investigations because it is not only helpful in finding out who may have been near the scene of the crime, but could also exonerate people who are wrongly accused.










Contact tracing programme to be stood down when pandemic ends
Much of data collected will be deleted, says Vivian; MOH may retain anonymised epidemiological data for research
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2021

The TraceTogether programme will be stood down when the Covid-19 pandemic ends, and much of the data collected will be deleted, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

He added that the Ministry of Health (MOH) may want to retain epidemiological data for research purposes, but that "it should be anonymised, it should not be personalised, it should not be individualised".

He gave this assurance yesterday as he told Parliament that the purpose of the TraceTogether programme is for contact tracing so that any chains of transmission of Covid-19 can be quickly broken.

The issue of how the data can be used came up for discussion in the House yesterday, after a reply to a parliamentary question the day before sparked a furore.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan had said in a response to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) that under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the police have the power to obtain data for criminal investigations, and TraceTogether data is not exempt.

Some had asked if this was inconsistent with what Dr Balakrishnan had said before - that the programme was to be used for contact tracing only.


Dr Balakrishnan, who is Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, acknowledged that he had misspoken. "After I realised that the CPC applied to this, I did have sleepless nights wondering: Should I try to persuade my colleagues to change the law?" he added.

"But having thought about it, discussed, consulted people both within and outside this House, I've come to the conclusion that right now we are doing well. We are able to keep Singapore safe, we are able to deal with the current crisis," he said.

"And so long as this Government is able to maintain our reputation for openness, transparency, reliability, I think we are still on the right track."

Several MPs, such as Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson), Mr de Souza, and Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) had asked yesterday how the police would handle the data used for criminal investigations.

To this, Dr Balakrishnan and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the police would obtain the data only for investigations into serious offences, such as murder or terrorism.

Separately, a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman said the powers under the Criminal Procedure Code will have to be exercised if the data cannot be obtained voluntarily, such as when the data belongs to a suspect in a case.

The spokesman noted that it is common for witnesses and victims to volunteer data to the police.

TraceTogether, developed for contact tracing during the coronavirus pandemic, relies on a smartphone app or tokens to collect Bluetooth proximity data to establish who people have come into physical contact with.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan stressed that this data is kept on people's phones or TraceTogether tokens and is automatically purged after 25 days if not used for contact tracing purposes.

He also noted that MPs and others have suggested on numerous occasions before that TraceTogether should be made compulsory, since Covid-19 presents a clear and present threat.

But he had pushed as much as possible to make it voluntary because he believed that the programme could achieve success only if people fully understood its purpose and voluntarily cooperate, he said.

Describing TraceTogether as "perhaps the world's most successful contact tracing programme", Dr Balakrishnan credited this to people's willingness to participate in it, and thanked them for their trust and understanding and for taking collective responsibility.

He added that this is why the Government had wanted to be completely above board and transparent in addressing the use of TraceTogether data in Parliament.

Noting that each society has had to find a balance between protecting public health during the pandemic on the one hand, and personal privacy on the other, Dr Balakrishnan said: "I believe it is possible to find that optimal point - by being transparent, by being open, by being diligent, disciplined and doing our best all the time collectively."










Parliament: Police's ability to use TraceTogether data raises questions on trust
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2021

The revelation that TraceTogether data can be used for police investigations has raised questions over trust in government, especially in relation to data privacy, said observers yesterday.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University (SMU) said the news came across as the Government backtracking on its earlier assurance that TraceTogether would be used only for contact tracing.

"It clearly undermines their trust and credibility," said the former Nominated MP.

"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."

Former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng said in a Facebook post that the Government "should have been upfront that some privacy will be sacrificed for safety and security".

After Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan on Monday said police are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain TraceTogether data for criminal investigations, netizens were quick to cite remarks by Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan during a June 8 press conference.

He had said then that TraceTogether data would be used "purely for contact tracing, period".



National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser noted that Singaporeans generally have a high degree of trust in the Government.

But he suggested that an additional layer of safeguards should be created to allay concerns about data privacy, and make sure such data is not misused.

This could come in the form of a committee comprising prominent public figures to which the police would be accountable to, should they plan to use the TraceTogether data, he said.

"I don't think there's an easy, straightforward response to this issue," he added. "The best safeguard, in my view, is the degree to which citizens trust the Government and police that any data collected would only be used to protect citizens, rather than against them."

Ms Sheena Jacob, a partner at law firm CMS Holborn Asia, said that people's concerns about how their TraceTogether data could be used is a communications and public relations issue.

She called for better clarity around how this data will be used, to provide assurance to Singaporeans and encourage them to participate in the national contact tracing programme.

SMU's Prof Tan suggested that the Government exclude TraceTogether data from the CPC's ambit, given its original intended use for contact tracing as well as the need to convince as many people as possible to get on it.

He added: "A by-the-way or incidental use of TraceTogether should be resisted because it is far more important to have many people use the programme."

But others noted that TraceTogether data is not the only piece of information that the authorities can request, and that the law allows the police to ask for any document or data they deem necessary for investigations.

Mr Gilbert Leong, a senior partner at law firm Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, said it was not practical for the Government to review the law and declare to the public the effect of existing laws on new initiatives each time it launches something like TraceTogether.

He added that there was no backtracking of previous assurances from the Government.

While the Government only uses TraceTogether data for contact tracing, it cannot ignore provisions in the law to use the data for law enforcement, he said.

Lawyers who spoke to The Straits Times echoed a point that Dr Balakrishnan made on how the CPC applies not only to TraceTogether, but to other kinds of sensitive data protected by privacy laws such as phone or banking records.

Mr Jonathan Kok, a technology lawyer at Withers KhattarWong, said that the police have always been empowered under the CPC to issue a written order to require a person to produce any document or data they believe is necessary for their investigations.

"So if the police require a person to produce his TraceTogether device for their investigations, they are already empowered to do so under the CPC," he said.

Additional reporting by Kenny Chee and Jean Iau










Parliament: MPs query when and how TraceTogether data might be used by police, and if confidence will be affected
The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2021

Several MPs yesterday had questions for Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam following the disclosure in Parliament on Monday that TraceTogether data can be used in police investigations, and yesterday's clarification on how it will be used judiciously. Here are edited excerpts of the exchange.




Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC):

(On the) comment Minister made about the police judiciously using information collected by TraceTogether, can the Minister further explain under what circumstances the police would be calling on that information?

The expectation cannot be that this information would be used at first instance whenever a police investigation commences.

Some clarification of this would be quite important for members of the public because everybody wants TraceTogether to succeed in view of the public health considerations.

But this particular point has caused consternation and that also probably explains why Minister has decided to make this clarification.

Mr Shanmugam: Under Section 20 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the police are authorised to recover, seek any information within the possession of a person.

Let's say there is a murder and information is available on the TraceTogether token. If police choose not to seek that information, you can imagine how the victim's family and the rest of Singapore might react to that. You could even argue that there can be a judicial review application in such a situation.

However, given that this TraceTogether token is necessary for dealing with the epidemic and it is of national importance and its purposes are to help us deal with the pandemic, the police approach has been - and will be - that it is pretty much restricted to very serious offences. And while that requirement is not in the legislation, it will be carefully considered within the police, and discretion will be exercised in seeking this information.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC):

Will the data be deleted at the end of the investigations if it doesn't yield anything, or at the end of the case?

Mr Shanmugam: If the data is of no particular use, yes, it will be deleted, otherwise it will have to be produced in court... or used for trial purposes even if not produced in court.

Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC):

Minister Balakrishnan just said that once the pandemic has passed, the TraceTogether programme will be stood down. Will the data that is collected, including data that is beyond 25 days, will that be stored on a server and will that still be accessible by the police if they invoke the CPC?

And has the Government considered the impact that yesterday's clarification would have on the adoption and the usage of the TraceTogether app as well as the token, because although we might have 78 per cent adoption, there is no real way of finding out whether people are actually using the system?

Dr Balakrishnan: First, let me deal with the data in your phones and in your tokens. All that is encrypted and it is auto purged after 25 days. So, you don't need to wait for the end of the pandemic before your longer-term historical data, beyond 25 days, is auto deleted.

Second, what impact does all this open discussion have on participation and on the way we handle the pandemic itself? There were people who said: "Well, you have got a tool, make it compulsory, just enforce it. This is a clear and present emergency." And Members will recall that on numerous occasions in this House and outside, I have asked that to the maximum extent, I am going to try to make this voluntary - a much harder target, an approach which requires constant explanation, and sometimes I will get it wrong. And when I get it wrong, I will just come clean and say so.

You should be asking me: Why do you take such a leceh, laborious approach? And that is because I believe that our victory over this pandemic is not by us sitting up here issuing rules and edicts, but that our people must understand not only the measures that we are implementing, but why we are implementing it, the spirit behind it, so that with their understanding and voluntary and full cooperation, we can achieve success.

And the reason we are now in this happy situation, in stark contrast to virtually anywhere else in the world, is not just because we have got two wonderful co-chairmen, Minister Gan (Kim Yong) and Mr Lawrence Wong, and it is not because we have got such technological wizardry, but it is trust, it is understanding, it is cooperation and it is collective responsibility.

So, the purpose of the answer to the question yesterday by Minister of State (for Home Affairs) Desmond Tan is that we want to be completely above board and transparent. The reason I asked Speaker's permission to make this clarification is because of this.

If there is disquiet, if there is uncertainty, we must answer it. We must be forthright, honest, open, transparent... It is in that spirit that we have these open discussions and why I remain confident that the participation rate in contact tracing using the latest tools that we have will remain high, and why I hope we will continue to be one of the bright spots in the world.

I appeal to you, by all means, continue to push us, ask us, question us, disagree with us. This is the attitude by which we will make progress and overcome.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson):

The TraceTogether token does not have the GPS function and the data will be deleted after 25 days.

For the handphone app, because the handphone itself has GPS function, would this also apply to the TT applications on phones?

Next, the police have a range of ways of collecting the data or information that they need for criminal investigations. Given the exchanges of Bluetooth information, how is the data from TraceTogether useful to police investigation into crimes?

Lastly, I would like to ask Minister for his reaffirmation that the vast majority of Singaporeans will not be affected by this.

Dr Balakrishnan:

First, the token has no GPS chip, and we have opened it up, we have allowed external parties to dissemble it. So, there is no way the token can keep track of location. Ms Tin makes the point that most smartphones nowadays do have a GPS chip. But we have been very careful in our coding for the TraceTogether app that it does not keep a record of GPS locations.

The only thing the TraceTogether app keeps track of is proximity on the basis of Bluetooth data.

On your second question whether this is useful, that is an operational question which I will leave to the police - whether proximity data is useful or not, and how they would use it.

Your final question was on the assurance that the majority will not be affected. The vast majority of Singaporeans are not involved in or assisting in criminal investigations. In that sense, they are not affected.

But TraceTogether, and its success, affects the welfare and the public health of all of us.

And in that sense, confidence in this programme makes a difference to all of us.

Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai:

How many instances are there where the police have tapped the data from the TraceTogether app?

I would also like the Minister to clarify further, when did he discover that his statement (on TraceTogether being used only for contact tracing) is going to be affected by the CPC?

Two, his message today, is it (that) he wants to apologise that the Government or the Minister had made an oversight, or is he telling us that in Singapore, we should just take it that under the CPC, they will be able to access all the information they have on us?

Dr Balakrishnan:

As far as I am aware, there has been only one, which involved a murder case. But I am not privy to operational details, and I shouldn't be, and therefore I am not in a position to comment further on the investigations.

(When) I made the comments and statements earlier, the CPC was not in my mind. Subsequently, we have been having discussions, especially over the last few weeks, as to whether we should in fact change the law or whether we continue as we are now. In any case, we decided it is better to be upfront.

That is why we are very glad Mr de Souza asked the question and Minister of State Desmond Tan answered it yesterday.

I have been in the House now for almost 20 years and all the staff who have worked with me over the years will know that I am obsessively concerned with accuracy, needless to say, absolute adherence to honesty. And that means over the years, from time to time, when I have misspoken, I have said so.

I have never shied away from saying so because, as I said, it is far more important to maintain trust. And I might be right or I might be wrong or I might have mistaken something or overlooked something, but rest assured when I discover it, I will say so, and to the best extent possible, we will find a solution together.

That is my approach, and I don't see any need to change from that, and I hope you understand.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok):

I recall Mr Giam, in the debate on the Personal Data Protection (Amendment) Bill, raised the possibility of linking the standards under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) and the government standards in relation to data protection with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union.

Now, as far as the general data protection regulations of the EU are concerned, there is a carve-out in relation to police investigations.

In fact, police may access personal data in relation to detection, prevention, investigation as well as prosecution for criminal offences. So, in a sense, there is parity in relation to the Singapore situation with that of the situation in the EU.

Mr Giam:

My purpose for raising that intervention yesterday was mainly in the interest of maximising the adoption of TraceTogether.

I have been a strong advocate of it on the ground with my residents, in the face of quite a bit of scepticism about the system. And I have actually tried to convince people to not only use the token, but also use the app, and use the app instead of using the token if they have a mobile phone. I just want to put on record that I do support the TraceTogether system and I do encourage Singaporeans to use the token or the app as much as they can.

In response to Mr Murali's point about the GDPR and the PDPA, I don't intend to open up a whole debate about this, but just to clarify that what I said during the debate was that the GDPR does have carve-outs for security purposes.

So, it is possible to have a PDPA that has carve-outs that allow the police to do certain things and access certain data. So, it is not incongruent to what I said earlier on.







Police can use TraceTogether data for criminal investigations
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2021

The police can obtain any data under Singapore's jurisdiction for the purposes of criminal investigations, and this includes TraceTogether data, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told the House yesterday.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked if data collected under the programme will be used for criminal investigations, a concern expressed by some online.

Mr Tan replied that TraceTogether was conceived and implemented for contact tracing to fight Covid-19, and measures had been put in place to protect the data. But this does not preclude its use in criminal investigations as the police are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code to obtain the data for such probes, he added.

In this regard, he said, data collected by TraceTogether is treated like any other data under Singapore's jurisdiction.


Asked by Workers' Party's Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) if this is in violation of the TraceTogether privacy statement, Mr Tan said that other than for such investigations, the data is "indeed to be used only for contact tracing and for the purpose of fighting (the) Covid situation".

As custodian of the TraceTogether data, he added, the Government has put in place stringent measures such as allowing only authorised officers to access it, using it only for authorised purposes and storing it on secured servers. Under the Public Sector (Governance) Act, public officers who recklessly or knowingly disclose the data without authorisation or misuse it may be fined $5,000, jailed for two years, or both, he said.

His reply sparked debate online about whether this was an about-turn. Some cited past remarks by Education Minister Lawrence Wong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on TraceTogether data being used only for contact tracing.

Mr Wong's office has clarified that he did not say such data would be used only for contact tracing.

What he had said, in June, was: "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, and fast and effective contact tracing."

Yesterday, the TraceTogether Privacy Safeguards page was updated to reflect how the Criminal Procedure Code applies to the data. It states that data shared with the Health Ministry will be used for Covid-19 contact tracing.

This note was added: "Also, we want to be transparent with you. TraceTogether data may be used in circumstances where citizen safety and security is or has been affected.

"Authorised police officers may invoke Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) powers to request users to upload their TraceTogether data for criminal investigations. The Singapore Police Force is empowered under the CPC to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations."













*  Singapore govt to pass law to ensure TraceTogether data can be used only for serious crimes
Law to formalise assurances on use of TraceTogether data
It can be used in only seven types of serious crimes including murder, terrorism and rape
By Kenny Chee, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2021

A law will be passed to formalise assurances made earlier that data from the Covid-19 TraceTogether contact tracing programme, if needed for criminal investigations, can be used to look into only serious offences including murder, terrorism and rape.

The legislation will be introduced in the next sitting of Parliament next month on a Certificate of Urgency, said the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) yesterday. This means that the proposed law is urgent enough to be put through all three readings in one parliamentary sitting, instead of separate sessions.

SNDGO said the legislation will specify that personal data collected through digital contact tracing solutions, which comprise the TraceTogether and SafeEntry programmes, can be used only for contact tracing.


However, there is an exception - when there is a "clear and pressing" need to use that data for criminal investigations into seven categories of serious offences.

"It is not in the public interest to completely deny the police access to such data, when the safety of the public or the proper conduct of justice is at stake," the statement said.

"If a serious criminal offence has been committed, the police must be able to use this data to bring the perpetrators to justice, seek redress for the victims and protect society at large."

SNDGO also said: "We acknowledge our error in not stating that data from TraceTogether is not exempt from the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC)."

Earlier last year, the Government had said that TraceTogether data would be used only for contact tracing in Singapore's fight against the pandemic. More than 4.2 million people, or about 78 per cent of residents here, have downloaded the TraceTogether app or collected the tokens.

The app and tokens exchange Bluetooth signals in an encrypted and randomised form with nearby users to quickly track people exposed to confirmed Covid-19 cases. The data, when unencrypted, is linked to a person's phone number and other identification details.

The controversy flared up on Monday when Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told Parliament that TraceTogether data could be accessed for criminal investigations under the CPC.

This prompted public criticism over whether this was an about-turn in the use of data collected.


On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who oversees the Smart Nation drive, and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament that the data collected will be used with utmost restraint.

Meanwhile, there were calls by some online for others to stop using or return their TraceTogether app or tokens, citing concerns that the Government had backtracked on earlier assurances.

SNDGO's statement yesterday said: "We value the trust that the public has placed in the TraceTogether programme, and feedback from members of the public."

It added that Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Shanmugam held a public consultation yesterday with members of the media, the legal fraternity, technology experts and academics to hear their views.

Lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio told The Straits Times that the Government was open about admitting that its original information was not completely accurate, and added: "I hope that we can, as a nation, now go back to focusing on the pressing issue of fighting the pandemic."

Additional reporting by Tham Yuen-C







Law to limit use of TraceTogether information will allay public concerns on data use, say observers
Defining cases in which data can be used by police will assuage privacy concerns, they say
By Tham Yuen-C and Kenny Chee, The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2021

Observers and MPs yesterday welcomed the news that the law would be amended to limit the use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations to seven types of serious offences such as murder, kidnapping and serious sexual crimes.

They said the move would help to address concerns over privacy that had arisen since Monday, when Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told Parliament that data collected by the contact tracing system to combat Covid-19 can be used by the police under the Criminal Procedure Code.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University said the move to define clearly in the law the circumstances under which police can use TraceTogether data should assuage concerns over how much access the authorities have to such data.

The former Nominated MP said there will still be people who take the view that TraceTogether data should be used purely for contact tracing, and there could be lingering suspicion even with the proposed restrictions to limit its use.

More importantly, the latest development should help refocus public attention and energy towards fighting Covid-19, he added.


Yesterday's announcement came soon after Mr Tan's reply to a parliamentary question from Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza on Monday sparked public criticism, prompting Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who oversees the Smart Nation effort, and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam to clarify the Government's position a day later.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office said last night that legislation will be passed next month to specify that personal data collected through the TraceTogether and SafeEntry programmes can be used only for contact tracing, except where the police have to access it to investigate seven categories of serious offences.

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling said that since Tuesday's exchange in Parliament, a small number of her residents had expressed their concerns about the use of TraceTogether data and the need for safeguards, with one suggesting that the crimes for which police can obtain such data should be spelt out.

The legislation is a definitive move to dispel any doubt, she said.

"Once the details are out, it should be very clear what the process is going to be like, what are the specific categories of crimes that will allow solicitation of this data, so it will leave nothing to the imagination," she added.

Following the remarks in Parliament, several members of the public had accused the Government of not being upfront, saying that the impression given when TraceTogether was introduced last year was that data collected would be used only for contact tracing.

On Tuesday, Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged in Parliament he had misspoken when he said last year that the data would be used only for contact tracing, and added that the Criminal Procedure Code was not on his mind when he spoke then.

To this, Mr de Souza said yesterday: "I listened to every word of Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's reply on Tuesday and I believe him - he had not considered the CPC when he spoke of the ambit of TraceTogether in June 2020."

He also said of the proposed curbs to restrict the use of data in police investigations to seven serious crimes: "It speaks of transparency and has the added value of restricting the use of data. It is a positive, transparent and timely move."

Meanwhile, Workers' Party MP Gerald Giam, who had expressed concern that not exempting TraceTogether data under the Criminal Procedure Code would discourage use of the contact tracing system, said: "We will study the Bill when it is tabled in Parliament and formulate our response accordingly."

Some observers had also felt that limiting the use of the data would help balance the need to fight Covid-19 with the need to fight serious crime.

Lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio said the serious nature of the crimes listed makes clear that the police will rely on TraceTogether data only in cases of utmost necessity.

"It is also important to bear in mind that every member of the public has a very strong interest to ensure that criminals who commit such serious offences are brought to justice," she added.

"We should also bear in mind that just as TraceTogether data can incriminate, it can also prove innocence, such as when a token user was not in the vicinity of the victim during the commission of a crime."

Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan said TraceTogether data could be useful for investigations in crimes that are not premeditated, such as a spontaneous fight in a club that ends in someone being killed.

He added: "All Singaporeans don't want a person guilty of serious crimes to get away scot-free."

Meanwhile, some people were still uneasy over how contact tracing data would be used, despite yesterday's statement.

Mr Aloysius Low, 39, founder of technology review site Can Buy or Not, who has been urging people to delete or stop using the TraceTogether app since Monday, said that it is a good thing the Government is legislating the use of the data.

But he is worried there is still not enough assurance that the law will not be amended in the future to expand the use of the data.

Mr Sudheesan said Singapore had leveraged technology well for contact tracing, and he found it disappointing that people have started deleting the TraceTogether app.

"There will be some residual resentment," he noted. "And people may need (some time) to purge themselves of this anger."













Amendment to restrict use of TraceTogether data
The Straits Times, 9 Jan 2021

Changes to the law will be introduced at the next sitting of Parliament next month to restrict the use of personal data collected through Covid-19 digital contact-tracing solutions.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office, said yesterday that the legislation will spell out that data collected through TraceTogether and SafeEntry cannot be used in police investigations, inquiries or court proceedings on any offence besides these seven categories:

• Offences involving the use or possession of corrosive substances, offensive or dangerous weapons, such as possession of firearms and armed robbery with the use of firearms

• Terrorism-related offences under the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act, Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, and Terrorism (Suppression of Misuse of Radioactive Material) Act

• Crimes against people where the victim is seriously hurt or killed, such as murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt, where the victim's injury is of a life-threatening nature

• Drug trafficking offences that attract the death penalty

• Escape from legal custody where there is reasonable belief that the subject will cause imminent harm to others

• Kidnapping

• Serious sexual offences, such as rape and sexual assault by penetration.





























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