PSP concerned that the use of TraceTogether data to investigate specific crimes will discourage people from using the app or token

SINGAPORE – The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has stressed that TraceTogether data should be used only for contact-tracing purposes.

In a post on the party’s Facebook page on Sunday (Dec 10), party secretary general Tan Cheng Bock said extending police powers to the TraceTogether data is not aligned to the original spirit of the contact tracing programme.

He added that establishing guidelines to state that police can use the data only for serious crimes would not help to “ease the mind of people, nor help to rebuild trust”.

“We need to be singular in purpose when it comes to contact tracing and in our fight against this pandemic. We fear that the government’s latest move may result in a loss of confidence in our systems,” said Dr Tan, chiming in on the controversy that erupted last week involving the national contact-tracing programme.

Public criticism mounted after Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told Parliament last Monday (Jan 4) that TraceTogether data could be accessed for criminal investigations under the Criminal Procedure Code.

The Government then said that laws will be introduced in the next sitting of Parliament next month to limit TraceTogether data to investigations of serious crimes.

Still, some saw this as an about-turn as the Government had earlier assured citizens that the data would only be used for contact tracing purposes.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) issued a statement on Friday (Jan 8), acknowledging that it had erred in “not stating that data from TraceTogether is not exempt from the Criminal Procedure Code”.

It said new legislation would formalise assurances that the use of contact tracing data will be limited to seven categories serious crimes, including rape, murder and terrorism.

In the PSP post, Dr Tan said this raises the question of whether the TraceTogether system is fit to be used for tracing “nefarious activities”.

“It is conceivable that a terror suspect could very well forge a different set of metadata (i.e. name and NRIC), or the user might even carry several handsets to throw the investigators off the scent,” said Dr Tan.

The TraceTogether token and app works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals, and the encrypted Bluetooth data is erased automatically after 25 days.

Dr Tan asked whether the Government would store contact tracing data beyond this specified period, if the current 25 days is not sufficient for investigating crimes like tracing terror suspects.

He also questioned if the Government intended to actively monitor the contact tracing data for those on the watchlist of the Internal Security Department.

Dr Tan highlighted that the party is concerned that the Government’s “overreaching powers will discourage people from using the TraceTogether app or token altogether”, adding that there is disquiet on the ground about how the Government is handling sensitive information.

“The Progress Singapore Party calls for the government to protect the privacy, the integrity of our contact tracing systems and restore public confidence,” he said.

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