Key questions asked by MPs on police access to TraceTogether data for serious offences

Some the questions raised include the longevity of TraceTogether data, and instances where the data have been used.

Darryl Laiu | January 05, 2021, 08:35 PM

In the Parliament sitting on Jan. 5, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan further clarified the jurisdiction police have on TraceTogether (TT) data.

Here are questions raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) in subsequent exchanges.

Deleting of data and impact on adoption: Gerald Giam

Workers' Party MP Gerald Giam asked a follow-up regarding Vivian's comment about standing down the TT programme once the pandemic is over.

Giam asked if the data collected by TT will be stored on a server, and if it will still be accessible by the police when the programme stands down.

Vivian said that data from the TT app on phones are automatically deleted after 25 days.

He clarified further about what happens to the data volunteered by patients and close contacts to the Ministry of Health (MOH), for contact tracing purposes.

"So long as the pandemic is...alive and posing a clear and present threat, MOH will want to have that data available, because it may be the start of a larger transmission chain.

But I believe that once the pandemic has passed, that data, certainly the specific personalised data, those fields should be eliminated. For research purposes, MOH may want to still have (epidemiological) data, but it should be anonymised, it should not be personalised, it should not be individualised."

Government wants to be completely above board and transparent

Giam also asked if the government has considered the impact that the original clarification on Jan. 4 would have on the adoption and usage of TT.

Vivian pointed out that the question concerns how open discussion on the issue will affect participation and the way that the government is handling the pandemic.

He said that the government has resisted making the TT programme mandatory because they believe that people must "understand not only the measures we're implementing but why we're implementing it."

Vivian said he asked Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin to make the Ministerial Statement because the government wants to be above board and transparent.

"If there's disquiet, if there's uncertainty, we must answer it. And I must answer it openly, transparently," added Vivian. "At all times, in this house and outside, we must be forthright, honest, open transparent, and do the best that we can.

The use of data in investigations: Tin Pei Ling

MP Tin Pei Ling asked for a clarification if the app version of TT tracks the user's location, as phones have a GPS function.

She also asked how the data collected from TT would be useful to criminal investigations, given that it only consists exchanges of bluetooth information.

Vivian said that they have been very careful in the coding of the TT app, so that it does not keep a record of GPS locations.

On her second question, Vivian said he would leave it to the police.

"But I will stand by what the Minister of Home Affairs has said, that this is not something to be accessed lightly or trivially, only for serious crimes, and to be used very judiciously, and on a utmost discretion applied," added Vivian.

Tin also asked for an affirmation that the vast majority of ordinary Singaporeans will not be affected, and the data collected will only be used for serious criminal investigations.

Vivian said in response: "The vast majority of Singaporeans are not involved in or assisting in criminal investigations. In that sense, they are not affected."

Number of instances TT data was used: Leong Mun Wai

Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai of the PSP also asked Vivian how many instances are there where the police have used TT data in an investigation.

Vivian said that as far as he is aware, there has only been one incident, involving a murder case.

"But I'm not privy to operational details, and I shouldn't be. And therefore I'm not in a position to comment further on the investigations," added Vivian.

Top image adapted from CNA.