Speaking in Parliament yesterday (5 Jan), Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the Police can only access TraceTogether data by requiring a person involved in or assisting a criminal investigation to produce his mobile phone or token.
Dr Vivian who said he had not earlier thought of the CPC when he spoke on TraceTogether for contact-tracing, reiterated that they had gone to great lengths to protect the privacy of TraceTogether users in all normal cases.
“But TraceTogether data is not exempt from Section (20) of the CPC,” he said. The key words, he emphasized, are ‘criminal investigation’.
The application of the Criminal Procedure Code is not unique to TraceTogether data.
“Other forms of sensitive data like phone or banking records, which may be protected by specific privacy laws, are also nevertheless subject to the provision of the CPC,” he said. “From time to time, police have done so, with proper safeguards and with the good outcomes that Singaporeans have come to expect,” he added.
Police must be given tools to bring criminals to justice and protect the safety and security of Singaporeans
“I think Singaporeans can understand why Section 20 of the CPC confers such broad powers. There may be serious crimes, murder, terrorist incidents where the use of TraceTogether data in police investigations may be necessary in the public interest. The police must be given the tools to bring criminals to justice and protect the safety and security of all Singaporeans,” he said.
In very serious cases where lives are at stake, it is not reasonable for us to say that certain classes of data should be out of reach of the Police, said the Minister. “The power to access data is exercised judiciously, and with utmost restraint,” he said.
Contact-tracing is key reason for our current good control of the COVID-19 situation
Contact-tracing is key to cutting off the chains of transmission within the community, Dr Vivian said.
Earlier reports said that TraceTogether has enabled the government to go from taking two to three days to do reduced the time taken to do activity mapping for a patient, to issuing a quarantine order within one day.
It has an open sourced code for public review and is made available for other countries to adopt.
The token has no internet or cellular connectivity. It uses Bluetooth signals to record other nearby TraceTogether devices. It does not capture GPS or geolocation data.
“The app or token only keeps a temporary record of who you have come into contact with. Neither the app nor the token tracks a user’s location. The data is stored in encrypted form on your device – either your mobile phone or your token. And the data is also automatically purged after 25 days,” Dr Vivian said.
The data collected by TraceTogether stays with you until:
- You are infected with COVID-19 and contact-tracing is necessary to ringfence and cut off transmission;
- You are being investigated or you are assisting the investigation of a serious crime.
Meanwhile, Gerald Giam of Workers’ Party, riding on the uproar over the revelation that the Police can access data from TraceTogether, wants the Government to specifically rule out the use of TraceTogether data by the Police for criminal investigation.
Since the data from TraceTogether will only leave you in the two scenarios described above, and since that data will be purged in 25 days, who is Gerald Giam protecting in his call for Police to be restricted from using TraceTogether data?