SINGAPORE – A law will be passed to formalise assurances made earlier that the use of data from the TraceTogether contact tracing programme for criminal investigations will be limited to seven categories of serious offences, including kidnap, rape and murder.
The legislation will be introduced in the next Parliament sitting in February on a Certificate of Urgency, said the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) in a statement on Friday evening (Jan 8).
The office said that the legislation will specify that personal data collected through digital contact tracing solutions – which comprise the TraceTogether programme and the SafeEntry programme – can be used specifically only for contact tracing.
However, there is an exception – when there is a clear and pressing need to use that data for criminal investigations into serious offences.
SNDGO added that the Government acknowledged its error in not stating that TraceTogether data can be used for criminal investigations under provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
On Monday, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said in Parliament that TraceTogether data is not precluded from provisions under the CPC that allow the police to access data needed in criminal investigations.
Then on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament that the data collected by TraceTogether will be used with utmost restraint. Even though the police have the powers to access the data for criminal investigations, they will do so only for very serious offences, such as murder, the two ministers said.
There was some public disquiet following the statements in Parliament, given how the Government had earlier given the assurance that data collected would be used only for contact tracing.
The TraceTogether app and tokens exchange Bluetooth signals in an encrypted and randomised form with nearby users of the app or token to quickly track people exposed to confirmed Covid-19 cases. The data, when unencrypted, is linked to a person’s phone number and other identification details.
SNDGO said on Friday that it was not in the interest of the public to completely deny the police access to contact tracing data “when the safety of the public or the proper conduct of justice is at stake”.
“If a serious criminal offence has been committed, the police must be able to use this data to bring the perpetrators to justice, seek redress for the victims, and protect society at large,” the office added.
The proposed law to ensure the use of contact tracing data is limited to serious crimes will expressly cover the following:
1. Offences involving the use or possession of corrosive substances, as well as offensive or dangerous weapons. This includes possessing firearms and armed robberies involving firearms.
2. Terrorism-related offences under the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act, Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, and Terrorism (Suppression of Misuse of Radioactive Material)
3. Crimes against people where the victim is seriously hurt or killed. This includes murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and voluntarily causing grievous hurt in which the victim’s injury is life-threatening
4. Drug trafficking offences in which the penalty is death
5. Escape from legal custody when there is reason to believe that the person will cause imminent harm to others
7. Serious sexual offences such as rape and sexual assault by penetration
Under the proposed law, personal data collected for contact tracing can be used for police investigations or court proceedings for such serious crimes.
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The data cannot be used in the investigations, inquiries or court proceedings of any other offence besides these seven categories of serious crimes, said SNDGO.
“We value the trust that the public has placed in the TraceTogether programme and feedback from members of the public,” the office added.
SNDGO said Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Shanmugam held a public consultation on Friday with members of the press, the legal fraternity, technology experts, and academia on Friday to hear their views on the matter.
“The views gathered will inform the debate on the upcoming legislation.”
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