Over 21,000 signatures on petition against use of S'pore govt-issued wearable contact tracing devices

The device has not yet been developed.

Sulaiman Daud | June 07, 2020, 09:07 PM

An online petition opposing the use of wearable devices for contact tracing has been put up on Change.org.

The petition was started on June 4 by one Wilson Low.

As of 8:15pm on June 7, it has received over 21,600 signatures.

Alternative to TraceTogether app

On May 22, in an interview with Sky News Australia, foreign affairs minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the government received feedback that the TraceTogether app was draining phone battery life, and said that an alternative was being developed.

"So, the other thing which we are working on now to supplement this is to develop wearable devices, a little device on the end of a lanyard, which would be working on a battery and will not drain your battery life, and which you would just carry with you as you go around your daily activities."

On June 4, in Parliament, Vivian said the government also received feedback that the app did not work as well on Apple devices and on iOS.

Because of this, the government decided not to make the download of the app mandatory.

He mentioned the portable wearable device again, and said that if it works, it will be distributed to everyone in Singapore.

However, he did not say for certain that wearing the device while leaving the house will be mandatory.

Petition against the wearable device

The petition stated that unlike apps on phones, the device will potentially be allowed to track a person's whereabouts whether or not they are within the range of a cellphone tower.

He added:

"All that is stopping the Singapore Government from becoming a surveillance state is the advent and mandating the compulsory usage of such a wearable device. What comes next would be laws that state these devices must not be turned off/remain on a person at all times - thus sealing our fate as a police state."

Here are some of the replies:

Screen shot from Change.org

Screen shot from Change.org

Screen shot from Change.org

In an update on June 7, Low added that the issue of mandatory tracking technology is a moot point because it supposedly already has the potential to create a "two-tiered society", those who wear the devices and those who don't.

He even called it potential "apartheid", foreseeing a future where those who wear devices are unable to interact, commune, or live with those who reject the devices.

You can see the petition at this link.

Privacy safeguards of TraceTogether app

However, on June 4, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean outlined the privacy safeguards of the app in a written reply in Parliament.

  • The close contacts data gathered by TraceTogether will be stored only on the user’s phone in the first instance.
  • It is only accessed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) only if the individual tests positive for Covid-19.
  • If the close contact data on the person’s phone is required for contact tracing, only a small group of authorised individuals in MOH would be able to see the patient’s personal data.
  • All public sector data protection rules will also apply to the data transferred from the user’s phone to MOH, including abiding by the recommendations of the Public Sector Data Security Review Committee.
  • Safeguards, including encryption, are in place on the user’s phone to protect this data from hackers.
  • Data older than 25 days will be automatically deleted from the phone.

In his own Parliamentary reply, Vivian reiterated the privacy safeguards of the TraceTogether app, and said that quick and accurate contact tracing is necessary now that Singapore has ended circuit breaker and more people are moving around.

App does not track location

Despite the concerns expressed by the petition, comments made by Vivian on a Facebook post on June 5 indicate that the device does not allow the authorities to track an individual's movements.

In response to a commenter named Koo Kok, he said, "The device has only Bluetooth proximity function, NO GPS or cellular connection. Key advantage is battery life and privacy. The battery will last many months before replacement is needed. The data stays encrypted only with you."

In response to another commenter named Justin Herson, who expressed opposition to a tracking device, Vivian replied:

"Justin Herson perhaps you misunderstood my explanation. This is NOT a tracking device. Unlike the countries you mentioned our contact tracing app and device does NOT track location. There is no GPS or mobile internet connectivity.

It acts as a personal diary, uses Bluetooth proximity data to collate prolonged close contacts, encrypts the data in your personal device, auto erases after 25 days and never leaves the device unless you are infected. If and only if that happens, then the data is used by authorised contact tracers to find people who may have inadvertently infected by you.

We believe we are actually being far more protective of privacy than in many other jurisdictions. We have to get the balance right between public health and personal privacy."

You can see the post below:

Related story:

Top image from Change.org.