On Monday (January 4th), the government announced that TraceTogether data could be used to aid criminal investigations, causing an uproar among Singapore citizens.
The law allows the police to retrieve any data under the Singapore jurisdiction for criminal investigation, including TraceTogether data.
In response, the Singaporeans have cited earlier statements by Foreign Secretary Vivian Balakrishnan on TraceTogether data, which is only used for contact tracing.
Balakrishnan himself said at a press conference last June that the data “would only be used for contact tracing. Period."
However, he has since stated that he was not aware of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CPC) that allows the police to access the data.
This came after Christopher de Souza of Holland-Bukit Timah asked GRC whether the data collected under the program should be used for criminal investigations due to concerns from internet users.
While Singaporeans do not necessarily think it unfair that the data is being used for criminal investigations, they are upset because they have not been told that the data will be used for investigative purposes.
Here you can see whether TraceTogether data can be used to solve criminal matters.
We give apps access to our personal data every day
Every day we enable apps, companies and institutions to access our personal data.
If someone is concerned about TraceTogether data, they may want to check the list of apps on their phones, such as: B. SingPass, Internet banking apps, and transportation apps.
It is possible that these apps are already collecting your data and you have already authorized the collection and use of your personal data in a legal context, whether you know it or not.
The data collected by such apps includes your location (to detect pick-up locations and abnormal route variations) or transaction information (such as payment method and distance traveled).
Photo credit: EZ-Link
We also already give banks access to information about our ATM transactions and other banking information, including where you last withdrew money.
Also, by checking your SafeEntry app in and out at locations, SafeEntry can see where you are and where you have been.
This begs the question: If we can allow EZ-Link, SafeEntry and Banks to collect and use our personal information, then why are we afraid to allow our TraceTogether data to be used for criminal investigations?
TraceTogether data is actually not that useful
In addition, the TraceTogether data should not be very useful in investigations.
Photo credit: AFP / Getty Images
TraceTogether taps Bluetooth signals to discover other participating mobile devices – within two meters of each other for more than 30 minutes – so they can identify those who have been in close contact if necessary.
In fact, there are likely hundreds of other contacts that any device will recognize in a day.
TraceTogether does not track GPS location, so it would be impractical for the police to call every single contact as the majority of them may not even have a memory of the criminal suspect.
Unlike cell ping, carrier history, SafeEntry, credit card statements, and ATM transactions, TraceTogether data doesn't reveal much about a criminal's trail.
If you are concerned about the TraceTogether data being used in criminal matters, you may want to re-examine who you share your personal data with.
S’pore Gov’t must be completely transparent
There's no denying that TraceTogether was designed for contact tracing in the fight against COVID-19.
It has always been clear that TraceTogether data is used to protect the livelihoods of Singaporeans, including the safety of citizens.
Therefore, the government would always prioritize the security of Singaporeans over individual freedoms. This includes when we need to identify a criminal.
To be fair, Singaporeans are not against the use of their data in criminal investigations. Instead, they are upset that they were not previously informed about the possible uses of their data.
Photo credit: REUTERS / Edgar Su
It wasn't until Monday that the TraceTogether Privacy Safeguards page was updated to reflect how the Code of Criminal Procedure will apply to the data.
It reads: “We want to be transparent for you too. TraceTogether data may be used in circumstances where the security of citizens is or has been compromised. "
“Authorized law enforcement officers can invoke the powers of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CPC) to request users to upload their TraceTogether data for criminal investigation. The Singapore Police under the CPC have the authority to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigation, ”she added.
It will definitely help ease the anger if the nation's government clearly explains how the data will be used in support of criminal cases.
For example, they can provide examples, map the process and describe in detail which aspects of the data are used – just as the use of the TraceTogether token was explained when it was introduced.
Selected image source: Gov.sg / Bloomberg