Updated January 7th, 2021 at 08:52 IST

Singapore government admits COVID-19 privacy data is available to police

Singapore officials have admitted that data from its COVID contact tracing programme can also be accessed by police, reversing earlier privacy assurances

Reported by: Bhavya Sukheja
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Singapore officials have recently admitted that data from its COVID-19 contact tracing programme can also be accessed by police. According to BBC, on January 4 the parliament was told that the data could be used for the purpose of criminal investigations. However, earlier the officials had explicitly ruled out that the information would be used for anything other than the virus tracking. 

Nearly 80 per cent of residents are signed up to the Trace Together Programme. The voluntary use had also increased after the government had announced that it would soon be needed to access anything from the supermarket to place of work. The programme uses a smartphone app or Bluetooth token and it also monitors who you have been in contact with. 

If a person tests positive for the deadly virus, the data allows tracers to swiftly notify anyone that might have been infected. This had prompted concerns over privacy, however, the officials had encouraged people to enrol and even promised that the data would never be used for other purposes. Previously, the Singaporean authorities said that the “data will never be accessed unless the users test positive for coronavirus and are contacted by the contact tracing team”. 

READ: Singapore To Block Travellers From South Africa To Stop Spread Of Mutant Virus

However, on Monday, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said that the app can in fact also be used for the purpose of “criminal investigation”, adding that otherwise, the data is to be used only for contact tracing and for the purpose of fighting the COVID crisis. The same day, the privacy statement on the Trace Together was also updated and it stated that the “Criminal Procedure Code applies to all data under Singapore’s jurisdiction”. 

The statement read, “Also, we want to be transparent with you. TraceTogether data may be used in circumstances where citizen safety and security is or has been affected. The Singapore Police Force is empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations”. 

READ: Singapore Starts COVID-19 Vaccination For Healthcare Workers

Govt to stand down after pandemic 

On Tuesday, Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan clarified that it was not just Trace Together data was used in cases of serious criminal investigations. He said that under the CPC, other forms of sensitive data like phone and banking records would also have their privacy regulations overruled. Balakrishnan said that to his knowledge, police had so far once accessed the programme in the case of a murder investigation. 

Further, the minister stressed that once the pandemic is over, there will no longer be a need for the contact tracing. He added that the government will also stand down the Trace Together programme once the country overcomes the deadly pandemic. Singapore was among the first countries to introduce the app and the introduction of token had sparked a rare backlash against the government over concerns the would be mandatory. An online petition calling for it to be ditched was also signed by nearly 55,000 people. 

READ: Singapore Airlines Offers 'COVID Passports' For Safe Travel; All About Health Certificates

READ: COVID-19: Singapore Becomes First Asian Country To Get Pfizer Vaccine Shipment


Published January 7th, 2021 at 08:52 IST