After Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan on Monday said police are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain TraceTogether data for criminal investigations, netizens were quick to cite remarks by Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan during a June 8 press conference.
"I don't think there's an easy, straightforward response to this issue", he added. He was responding to a question posed during parliament Monday on whether the TraceTogether data would be used for criminal probes and the safeguards governing the use of such data.
Reiterating that the CPC was "not in my mind" when he made his previous statements, Dr Balakrishnan replied to Mr Leong that the Government had decided that it was "better to be upfront" after having discussions "over the last few weeks" as to whether the Government "should, in fact, change the law or whether we continue as we are now".
"But having thought about it, discussed, consulted people both within and outside this House, I have come to the conclusion that right now we are doing well ..."
Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said during a Multi-Ministry Task Force (MTF) press conference in June past year that the TT app and token are not meant to be used to detect offences and breaches of rules, but are only to be used for effective contact tracing.
"The police must be given the tools to bring criminals to justice and protect the safety and security of all Singaporeans, especially in very serious cases where lives are at stake", he added.
"It is not reasonable for us to say that certain classes of data should be out of reach of the police. This power - on the part of the police - to access data must be exercised judiciously, and with utmost restraint".
He said contact-tracing data have been used once so far, in a murder case, according to The Straits Times. "If the police chose not to seek that information, you can imagine how the victims' family and indeed the rest of Singapore might react to that situation". "The concerns focused on data protection issues related to the collection, use and storage of data", law firm Norton Rose Fullbright said last month in a report on global contact-tracking technology about the Singapore operation.
"Authorised police officers may invoke then the Criminal Procedure Code ...powers to obtain this data for objective of criminal investigation, and for the goal of the safety and security of our citizens, but otherwise TraceTogether data is indeed to be used only for contact tracing and for the goal of fighting the Covid situation".
The police will also have to be specific and precise about the exact TraceTogether data that they seek.
With a almost 80 percent uptake among the country's population, Singapore's TraceTogether app is one of the best examples of what a successful centralized contact tracing effort can look like as countries across the world struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic.