Forum: Transparent rules needed on use of contact tracing data

The Government's plans to issue a wearable device for contact tracing have raised privacy concerns, including the risk of data breaches.

In response, the Government has assured the public that the device will not track an individual's location.

Data in the personal device is encrypted and automatically erased after 25 days, and the authorities will access the data in the device only if a person is infected with Covid-19 (Contact tracing device will not track location; people can use TraceTogether if they prefer, says Vivian Balakrishnan, ST Online, June 8).

While these assurances are welcome, the Government should consider making these rules concrete and enforceable in order to address privacy concerns.

Under the Personal Data Protection Act, public agencies and organisations acting on their behalf are exempt from key obligations in relation to the collection, use or disclosure of personal data.

Although the Government's personal data protection laws and policies are set out on the Smart Nation website, these are quite general and insufficiently specific in relation to contact tracing.

The Government should formulate clear and transparent rules, fully accessible to the public, that govern the use of contact tracing apps and devices.

In doing this, necessity and proportionality are essential. Collection, use and disclosure of contact tracing data should go no further than what is needed to achieve the public health aim of preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Regular accounts should be given to the public of how such apps and devices have been used to handle contact tracing data.

To enforce compliance by all public agencies and organisations with privacy rules concerning contact tracing, a dedicated complaints mechanism should also be established to address complaints from individuals. All complaints should be reviewed by an independent body, and the outcome of these complaints should be made public.

Even as we seek to safeguard lives and livelihoods, it helps to enter the "new normal" with peace of mind that our private and social lives remain safe as well.

Darius Lee