PM Lee Says ‘We Made A Mistake’ By Not Saying At First That Data Can Be Used For Police Purposes

When the TraceTogether app and token were introduced, some Singaporeans were concerned over privacy issues.

So when it was announced in Jan that TraceTogether data can be used by police to aid criminal investigations, there was a strong reaction.

People asked why this wasn’t revealed earlier, especially since more than 70% had already started using the system by then.

Speaking for the 1st time on the episode, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has admitted that the Government should’ve been more upfront about the use of TraceTogether data.

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He also assured that the TraceTogether information will be deleted after the pandemic is over.

PM Lee admits mistake in BBC interview

Mr Lee was speaking during an interview on the BBC’s Talking Business Asia that was aired on Sunday (14 Mar).

During the interview, BBC’s Asia business correspondent Karishma Vaswani asked him about the concern over how “wide-reaching” TraceTogether was, and that “perhaps not the whole truth came out” at first.

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To that, Mr Lee admitted,

I think we made a mistake.

Govt should have said so upfront: PM Lee

Mr Lee said TraceTogether was “designed for contact tracing” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the police can obtain TraceTogether data for criminal investigations and police investigations.

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The mistake was in not saying so upfront, he added,

We should have said so upfront. We did not, and we came out and said so.

Subsequently, a question was raised in Parliament about the use of TraceTogether data by Holland-Bukit Timah MP Christopher de Souza.

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An explanation thus had to be made about this.

PM Lee acknowledges strong reaction

Mr Lee did acknowledge the “anxiety” of Singaporeans when it came to this revelation, saying,

…there was a reaction, quite a strong one.

However, he assured that after the Covid-19 is over, the information will be deleted.

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The PM also shared his opinion that we’ve come to accept the situation, saying,

I think people have accepted that, and we will be able to live with this.

Even without the pandemic, Mr Lee said, “all kinds of apps” exist that can track someone.

Thus, privacy isn’t the same anymore in the world, compared with before the days of the Internet, he said.

And though this is “something people are getting used to”, we must also “work together as a society and a community and to trust one another”.

How we arrived at this point

Last Jun, when it was announced that a wearable device for contact tracing was being rolled out, a petition was started against it. It now has almost 55,000 signatures.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan – Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative – said at a press conference on 8 Jun that the data would be used only for contact tracing.

However, in Parliament on 5 Jan, he said he had “misspoken”, and hadn’t thought about the CPC when he spoke earlier.

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On 2 Feb, Parliament passed a Bill allowing personal contact tracing data to be available to the police investigating 7 serious crimes.

It was also revealed on 2 Feb that the police were granted access to TraceTogether data in an attempt to solve the Punggol Field murder.

We have to go by the law: PM Lee

When Ms Vaswani brought up the fact that police can access TraceTogether data, Mr Lee elaborated that they can do so only for “certain enumerated serious classes of crime”.

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This has been explained in Parliament, and legislation has been passed to that effect. He also added,

We have to go by the law. If we do not go by the law, you go to jail.

Pandemic won’t last forever: PM Lee

For those who’re suffering from “Covid fatigue”, Mr Lee also struck a consoling tone when he said,

It will not last forever.

Pointing out that the world has suffered pandemics before, and they’ve subsided.

However, he said it may take 3-5 years for Covid-19 to subside “one way or the other”, adding,

And we learn to live with this if it does not disappear.

As for global travel, he hopes that it can start to resume “by the end of this year or next year”, if not earlier.

That’s if many countries can vaccinate most of their populations by later this year and systems are developed so people will have the confidence to travel safely again.

Read the transcript of PM Lee’s interview at the Prime Minister’s Office website here.

Has the public embraced TraceTogether?

PM Lee has given his assurance that TraceTogether data will be deleted after the pandemic, and millions of Singaporeans are now using the app or token.

Arguably, we don’t have much of a choice, since TraceTogether-only entry may be implemented soon for most public places.

However, if people are still unconvinced, they can also request for their data to be deleted.

Does it signal that we’ve embraced TraceTogether as part of our lives? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Featured image adapted from YouTube and Facebook.