Police will restrict use of TraceTogether data to 'very serious offences', says Shanmugam

It emerged in Parliament on Jan 4 that the police are empowered to access TraceTogether data.
It emerged in Parliament on Jan 4 that the police are empowered to access TraceTogether data.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The police will restrict the use of data collected by Singapore's national contact tracing programme TraceTogether to "very serious offences", said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Tuesday (Jan 5).

Such data had been used once in a murder investigation, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan revealed to the House.

The ministers were addressing concerns about TraceTogether, a day after it emerged in Parliament that the police are empowered to access this data under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). The news prompted widespread reactions online.

After Dr Balakrishnan made an unscheduled statement about the matter, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked under what circumstances the police would call up TraceTogether data.

Said the Workers' Party chief: "Some clarification of this would be quite important for members of the public because everybody wants TraceTogether to succeed, in view of the public health considerations. But this particular point has caused consternation and that also probably explains why Minister has decided to make this clarification."

Responding, Mr Shanmugam said the police's approach is that the use of such data is "restricted to very serious offences".

"And while that requirement is not in the legislation, it will be carefully considered within the police, and discretion will be exercised in seeking this information."

He noted that the police have a duty to use the powers vested in them under the CPC.

"To give you an example, let's say there is a murder and the victim, victim's family, and information is available on the TraceTogether token," the minister said.

"If police chose not to seek that information, you can imagine how the victim's family and indeed the rest of Singapore might react to that situation. You could even argue that there can be a judicial review application in such a situation."

On the murder case where TraceTogether data was used, Dr Balakrishnan said he was not privy to operational details and not in a position to comment further on the investigation.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) said he supported the use of TraceTogether in such investigations because it is not only helpful in finding out who may have been near the scene of the crime, but could also exonerate people who are wrongly accused.

"So I would suggest that people who are accused or assisting investigations should be able to request that the police do check their TraceTogether, to see if they may have alibis at the time of the offence," he added.