Police can use TraceTogether data for criminal investigations

The Government has put in place stringent measures such as allowing only authorised officers to access TraceTogether data.
The Government has put in place stringent measures such as allowing only authorised officers to access TraceTogether data.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The police can obtain any data under Singapore's jurisdiction for the purposes of criminal investigations, and this includes TraceTogether data, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told the House on Monday (Jan 4).

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked if data collected under the programme will be used for criminal investigations, a concern expressed by some online.

Mr Tan replied that TraceTogether was conceived and implemented for contact tracing to fight Covid-19, and measures had been put in place to protect the data.

But this does not preclude its use in criminal investigations as the police are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code to obtain the data for such probes, he added.

In this regard, he said, data collected by TraceTogether is treated like any other data under Singapore's jurisdiction.

Asked by Workers' Party's Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) if this is in violation of the TraceTogether privacy statement, Mr Tan said that other than for such investigations, the data is "indeed to be used only for contact tracing and for the purpose of fighting (the) Covid situation".

As custodian of the TraceTogether data, he added, the Government has put in place stringent measures such as allowing only authorised officers to access it, using it only for authorised purposes and storing it on secured servers.

Under the Public Sector (Governance) Act, public officers who recklessly or knowingly disclose the data without authorisation or misuse it may be fined $5,000, jailed for two years, or both, he said.

His reply sparked debate online about whether this was an about-turn.

Some cited past remarks by Education Minister Lawrence Wong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on the use of TraceTogether data.

Last June, Mr Wong had said “there is no intention to use a TraceTogether app or TraceTogether Token as a means of picking up breaches of existing rules”.

He said at a Multi-Ministry Task Force press conference that “the app and the device, plus SafeEntry, combined are meant to provide us with information in a timely manner so that we can do speedy, and fast and effective contact tracing. 

“It’s not meant as a way to detect offences and breaches of rules”.

At the same conference, Dr Balakrishnan added that the “TraceTogether app, TraceTogether running on a device, and the data generated is purely for contact tracing, period”.

On Monday, the TraceTogether Privacy Safeguards page was updated to reflect how the Criminal Procedure Code applies to the data collected.

It states that data shared with the Health Ministry will be used for Covid-19 contact tracing.

This note was added: "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.

"Authorised police officers may invoke Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) powers to request users to upload their TraceTogether data for criminal investigations.

"The Singapore Police Force is empowered under the CPC to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations."