SNDGO Acknowledges Error In Not Stating That Police Can Access Data Under Criminal Procedure Code
The majority of people in Singapore are now using the TraceTogether app or token, as the uptake passed 70% on 21 Dec.
While this may signal public trust in the system, it may also be because they were told it would soon be made mandatory for all public places.
Some members of the public, however, were concerned when it was revealed that its data can be used by the police in criminal investigations.
To assuage these concerns, the Government will pass a law to spell out 7 serious offences where TraceTogether data can be used.
This law will be introduced for discussion in Parliament in Feb.
Exception to be made for criminal investigation of 7 offences
In a media statement on Friday (8 Jan) night, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) previewed an upcoming legislation.
It will be introduced to Parliament in Feb, via a Certificate of Urgency.
The law will confirm that personal data from TraceTogether and SafeEntry can only be used for contact tracing – with a notable exception.
The data will be used for criminal investigation of serious offences if there is a “clear and pressing need”.
Not in public interest if police are denied access: SNDGO
The SNDGO said that it’s “not in the public interest” if the police are totally denied access to the data.
That’s because there are certain situations where public safety or the proper conduct of justice is threatened.
Thus, the police should use the data to protect society against the following 7 serious criminal offences:
For these 7 categories, personal data collected by TraceTogether and SafeEntry will be used for police investigations, inquiries, or court proceedings.
CPC empowers police to obtain any data
In the statement, the SNDGO also acknowledged an error.
The error, it said, was in “not stating” that TraceTogether data wasn’t exempt from the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
The CPC empowers the police to obtain any data, including data from TraceTogether, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan in Parliament on Monday (4 Jan).
This was an eye-opener for many who remembered that in Jun last year, something a bit different was said by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative.
Vivian Balakrishnan said he had ‘misspoken’
At a press conference on 8 Jun, Dr Balakrishnan said TraceTogether data would be used “purely for contact tracing, period”.
However, in Parliament on Tuesday (5 Jan), he said he had “misspoken”.
He also said,
Frankly, I had not thought of the CPC when I spoke earlier.
When he realised that the CPC applied, he suffered “sleepless nights”, he added.
Thus, the acknowledgement of the error by SNDGO.
Ministers assure public that restraint will be used
The SNDGO also noted that Dr Balakrishnan and Home and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had assured the public on the use of the data.
The police’s access will be “exercised judiciously” and “with utmost restraint”, Dr Balakrishnan said in Parliament. It will also be restricted to serious offences only.
He repeated these assurances in a Facebook post on Friday (8 Jan) night.
In a comment on the post, Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin said he “wasn’t surprised” that the data can be accessed to solve serious crimes.
However, he has no doubts that it would be used only for serious crimes, and thinks the law will help to ensure this.
TraceTogether doesn’t track location: Vivian Balakrishnan
In Parliament, Dr Balakrishnan also reiterated that TraceTogether does not track location, and the token doesn’t have any Global Positioning System (GPS) chip.
So there’s no way that the token can keep track of location, he added.
Although smartphones do have GPS, the coding of the TraceTogether app has been configured not to keep a record of GPS locations, he also said.
Public consultation held
The SNDGO statement revealed that a public consultation was held by Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Shanmugam.
Those who attended comprised members of the press, the legal fraternity, technology experts and academia.
Their feedback will be taken into account during the Parliament debate of the aforementioned legislation.
The SNDGO also said that public feedback, as well as trust in the TraceTogether system, is valued.
Will the public be reassured?
While Dr Balakrisnan had previously misspoken on the use of TraceTogether data by the police, he’s quite sure users’ location won’t be tracked.
He’s also certain that the police will use the data judiciously, so basically only those involved in serious criminal activity should be worried.
If people are still unconvinced, they can also request for their data to be deleted.
Will the public be reassured by these words? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Featured image adapted from Facebook and MS News.