Welcome assurances on TraceTogether
Clear demarcation of the limited boundaries within which the police can use data obtained by the authorities for other purposes will help to balance the need for public safety and personal privacy.
It is reassuring that a law will soon be passed to formalise assurances given last week that data from the Covid-19 TraceTogether contact tracing programme, if needed for criminal investigations, can be used only to look into serious offences, including murder, terrorism and rape. The law will specify that personal data collected through Singapore's digital contact tracing solutions, which comprise the TraceTogether and SafeEntry programmes, is essentially for contact tracing. But 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. That clear demarcation of the limited boundaries within which the police can use data obtained by the authorities for other purposes - to fight the coronavirus pandemic - will help to balance the need for public safety, in both the epidemiological and law-and-order senses, and personal privacy.
TraceTogether and Safe Entry constitute a crucial barrier to the spread of Covid-19. SafeEntry, the national digital check-in system that logs the identification and mobile numbers of individuals visiting venues to aid contact tracing efforts, was enhanced by the introduction of the TraceTogether programme to speed up contact tracing and improve its accuracy. Today, the adoption of these programmes has become habitual, so much so that they barely attract social attention. However, it bears recalling that digital data-collection measures in the form of Safe Entry were critical to Singapore's battle against Covid-19 when the disease threatened each and every one in society.
Data collection remains crucial even today, not least because Singapore could be threatened by variants of the coronavirus that are causing new problems elsewhere. Those who would wish to delete or to stop using the TraceTogether app, out of concern over or anger at the possible use of data for policing purposes, would do well to reconsider their stance. This is because the pandemic is far from behind us and rapid contact tracing remains vital, not least as Singapore moves to relax its measures to curb the spread of the virus.
The law-and-order society that Singaporeans have come to prize has been created through the judicious application of the investigative powers of the authorities, and this has enabled the police to act legally and decisively against criminals. The new law will uphold this principle by affirming that the new means of data collection do lie within the purview of the Criminal Procedure Code. Public concern over the investigative uses of data collection should be mitigated by the assurance, to be written into the new law, that these would be limited to criminal investigations into the most serious offences. Protecting Singaporeans from these crimes constitutes a public good and remains necessary.
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