SINGAPORE – A law will be passed to formalize previous assurances that the use of data from the TraceTogether contact tracking program for criminal investigations will be limited to seven categories of serious crime, including kidnapping, rape and murder.
The legislation will be introduced at Parliament’s next sitting in February on an emergency certificate, Smart Nation and the Digital Government Office (SNDGO) said in a statement on Friday evening (January 8th).
The office said the legislation will specify that personal data collected through digital contact tracking solutions – which include the TraceTogether program and the SafeEntry program – can only be used specifically for contact tracking.
However, there is one exception – when there is a clear and urgent need to use this data for criminal investigations into serious crime.
SNDGO added that the Government acknowledged its error in not stating that TraceTogether data could be used for criminal investigations in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CPC).
On Monday, Secretary of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan told Parliament that TraceTogether data was not excluded from the provisions of the CPC, which allowed 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 the utmost restraint. Even if the police have the power to access data for criminal investigations, they will only do so for very serious crimes, such as murder, the two ministers said.
There was some public unrest following statements from Parliament, given how the Government had earlier assured that the data collected would only be used to track contacts.
The TraceTogether app and tokens exchange Bluetooth signals in an encrypted and randomized form with nearby users of the app or token to quickly track people exposed to Covid-19 confirmed cases. The data, when unencrypted, is linked to a person’s phone number and other identifying details.
SNDGO said on Friday that it was not in the public interest to completely deny police access to contact tracking data “when public safety or good justice is at stake”.
“If a serious crime has been committed, the police must be able to use this data to bring the perpetrators to justice, to seek reparation for the victims and to protect society at large,” the office added.
The proposed law to ensure that the use of contact tracking data is limited to serious crime will explicitly cover the following:
1. Offenses involving the use or possession of corrosive substances, as well as offensive or dangerous weapons. This includes possession of firearms and armed robberies involving firearms.
2. Terrorism offenses under the Law on Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings), the Law on Terrorism (Suppression of Funding) and Terrorism (Suppression of the Misuse of Radioactive Materials)
3. Offenses against persons in which the victim is seriously injured or killed. This includes murder, culpable homicide that does not amount to a crime, and the voluntary causing of a serious injury in which the victim’s injury is life-threatening
4. Drug trafficking offenses in which the punishment is death
5. Escape from legal custody when there are reasons to believe that the person will cause imminent harm to others
7. Serious sexual offenses, such as rape and sexual assault by penetration
Under the proposed law, personal data collected for the purpose of following contacts may be used for police investigations or legal proceedings for such serious crimes.
The data cannot be used in investigations, inquiries or court proceedings of any crime other than these seven categories of serious crime, SNDGO said.
“We appreciate the public’s trust in TraceTogether and the feedback from members of the public,” the office added.
SNDGO said that Dr. Balakrishnan and Mr. Shanmugam held a public consultation with members of the media, the legal fraternity, technology experts and academia on Friday to hear their views on the issue.
“Gathered opinions will inform the debate on future legislation.”