Progress Singapore Party objects to use of TraceTogether data for criminal investigations: Leong Mun Wai

SINGAPORE – The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) on Tuesday (Feb 2) opposed a Bill tabled in Parliament, which will allow police to use contact tracing data to investigate serious crimes, calling on the Government to “keep its original promise”.

Data collected by TraceTogether, as well as other contact tracing systems, should be used solely for the purpose of contact tracing as several ministers had pledged, said Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai during the debate on the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill.

“As the PSP’s Secretary-General, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, has stated, backtracking is not good politics, and it erodes the confidence and social compact of our citizens in our political institutions,” added Mr Leong.

“The PSP is not objecting to this Bill for the sake of objecting… But to trade off public trust in public health measures – which must be of utmost priority in a pandemic crisis – for public safety in which we are already strong, as evidenced by the much acclaimed crime-solving abilities of our police, calls into question the judgment to make such a trade-off.”

The proposed amendments to the law follow an outcry after it was revealed in Parliament last month that the police had the powers to use TraceTogether data for criminal investigations, under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

Mr Leong asked if this was necessary, given that the police already has “broad powers” under the CPC to access documents, people’s computers and decryption data for investigation purposes.

He also said: “Besides, I find it quite unbelievable that such criminals would carry their TraceTogether tokens while committing such crimes, especially now that the Government has announced that TT data is accessible by the SPF.”

Noting that Singaporeans have “long accepted some erosion over their civil rights and, by extension, their privacy, in order to ensure public safety”, Mr Leong said that the Covid-19 contact tracing systems, taken together, can compromise privacy quite extensively.

“SafeEntry collects an individual’s NRIC, contact numbers, their location whenever they enter a building, and even how long an individual stays in a location, while TraceTogether collects who that individual was in close proximity to, and for how long.

“The two programmes together allow the Government to easily create a map of where an individual goes and who he associates with,” said the NCMP.

He asked when the police first accessed TraceTogether data and how many cases it has used the data for, as well as when the Cabinet was first informed of the use of the data, among other things.

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When asked by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah if he would object to the use of TraceTogether data to investigate a child kidnapping, even if no other evidence was forthcoming, Mr Leong said his party’s position would not change.

He added that his party believes it is more important to prioritise public trust over public safety after weighing the costs and benefits.

Pointing to how more than 70 per cent of people had downloaded the TraceTogether app or collected the token as at December last year, he said many had been assured that the data collected would be used only for contact tracing following remarks by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

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He accused the Government of breaking people’s trust and compromising contact tracing efforts, adding that he had come across some people who were now leaving their TraceTogether tokens at home, and others who refuse to use TraceTogether altogether.

Stressing that public trust in the Government is a cornerstone of Singapore’s political system, he said “this very same trust enabled the Government to combat and curtail the Sars crisis in 2003, and the H1N1 crisis in 2009”.

He said that Covid-19 will not be the last pandemic Singapore will have to face, and warned that any action taken by the Government now will affect trust and confidence in the Government during future pandemics or other unforeseen calamities.

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