Bill to restrict use of TraceTogether to serious crimes seeks to assure public their data will be safeguarded: Vivian

The proposed law makes clear that the police can apply to use the data only in investigating seven categories of serious offences.
ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Government's intention in introducing a proposed law urgently to restrict the use of personal contact tracing data is to remove any doubt among Singaporeans and assure them that the data will be properly safeguarded and used appropriately.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan gave Parliament this assurance on Tuesday (Feb 2) at the start of a debate on a Bill that restricts the use of such data to Covid-19 contact tracing and investigating seven types of serious crimes.

Dr Balakrishnan added that the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill also seeks to balance between protecting people's TraceTogether data and allowing the police to access the information to solve serious crimes to protect the public's safety and maintain security.

The Bill was tabled in Parliament on Monday by Dr Balakrishnan, who is in charge of the Smart Nation drive, on behalf of Law Minister K. Shanmugam on a Certificate of Urgency. This means that the proposed law is urgent enough to be put through all three readings in one parliamentary sitting, instead of separate sessions.

In his speech, Dr Balakrishnan said the Government acknowledged its error in not stating that data from TraceTogether is not exempt from the Criminal Procedure Code.

"I take full responsibility for this mistake, and I deeply regret the consternation and anxiety caused by my mistake," he said.

Noting that "these are extraordinary times" and "exceptional circumstances", Dr Balakrishnan said on Tuesday that the Bill is being introduced urgently so that "we may continue to focus our attention towards battling... the Covid-19 global pandemic".

"This is crucial because the virus is a clear, present and... growing threat. And it will remain so for some time. We cannot afford to be distracted from our fight against Covid-19," he said.

"We need to rally together, look out for one another, protect public health and safety even as we try carefully to reopen the economy."

The proposed law makes clear that the police can apply to use the data only in investigating seven categories of serious offences.

These are offences of a significant severity or that pose an immediate threat to life or public safety, such as the use of firearms and dangerous weapons, terrorism, murder, drug offences that attract the death penalty, kidnapping and rape.

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The Government cannot amend this list of offences without Parliament's approval, Dr Balakrishnan said.

He also cited the example of a kidnapped child who left a dropped phone or token, and whose mother took the phone to the police, and asked Members of Parliament if it would be right for the police to say they cannot do anything about it. In fact, it would be untenable for them to refuse to check that data, he said.

If passed, the amendments to the law are expected to come into force in the middle of this month.

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