Timeline of how TraceTogether went from Vivian Balakrishnan's statement to passing of Bill

From start to finish.

Sulaiman Daud | February 04, 2021, 03:37 PM

Thanks to the questions raised in Parliament, Singaporeans now have a better idea of the TraceTogether "timeline", as referred to as such by Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative.

Committing to "full transparency", Vivian shared the details in Parliament on Feb. 2, in response to questions from the Leader of the Opposition, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh.

Other WP MPs Sylvia Lim and Gerald Giam also raised issues such as why the Government took a while to correct the misrepresentation that the TraceTogether data was used for contact tracing only.

Questions raised in Parliament

In his speech, Singh asked:

"What was the exact date on which the minister-in-charge of Smart Nation knew that section 20 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) would apply to TraceTogether?"

"Secondly, and in connection with this, was Mr Christopher De Souza’s parliamentary question submitted before or after the Minister became aware of Section 20 of the Criminal Procedure Code?"

Singh said the questions are important for the House to understand at which point the government determined its representations statement on TraceTogether data was misleading, and whether it could have corrected itself and updated the public on their own initiative.

Singh also asked about the sole case in which TraceTogether data was used, and how useful it proved to be, and Leong Mun Wai of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) asked when the police first requested access to TraceTogether data.

The TraceTogether Timeline

May 2020

In his Parliament speech on Feb. 2, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan revealed more information about a case that police had wanted access to TraceTogether data.

"The police have only requested for TT data once. For (a) murder that occurred in May 2020 in line with the powers under the CPC. As (the) TT app was not installed in the suspect's phone, there was no useful data obtained."

Tan did not state the exact date when the request occurred, just that the murder took place in May 2020.

June 2020

On June 4, 2020, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a written response to a Parliamentary question that TraceTogether data would only be used for contact tracing.

Vivian said in Parliament on June 5, 2020 that TraceTogether data would only be used for contract tracing.

Speaking in February 2021, Vivian remarked that things would be different if he had added four words, "... subject to prevailing legislation."

October 2020

Vivian said he was approached by a member of the public, who asked, "Are you sure that the CPC doesn't apply (to TraceTogether data), even for a murder case?"

This was in end-October. Vivian then directed his staff to double-check the legal provisions.

He was then informed at that point that the CPC did apply, and that the police had requested to access TraceTogether data on one previous occasion.

November 2020

Vivian said he had many "sleepless nights" and rounds of discussions with his Cabinet colleagues whether to carve out TraceTogether data from the CPC.

Having first made the statement in Parliament, he resolved to come back to Parliament to clear things up.

Vivian said, "And I told my staff regardless of the outcome of this internal review, we will come back here and we will clarify."

December 2020

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza filed his parliamentary question on TraceTogether data, which states in full:

"To ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether TraceTogether data will be used for criminal investigations and, if so, what are the legal provisions and safeguards in using such data."

Vivian said he believed the question was filed in early December.

January 2021

De Souza's question was addressed in Parliament by Tan on Jan. 4, 2021.

Tan revealed the information, and the public became aware for the first time that the CPC applies to TraceTogether data.

On Jan. 5, 2021, Vivian issued a statement clarifying the issue, which led to a lively exchange between him, Singh, and Home Affairs Minister Shanmugam.

On Jan. 8, 2021, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office released a statement acknowledging its error in not stating that TraceTogether data was applicable to the CPC, and that access to such data would be limited to seven categories of serious offences.

It added that legislation would be passed to codify this.

February 2021

The Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill was passed by Parliament on a Certificate of Urgency.

Singh said the Workers' Party supported the Bill, while Leong of the PSP said his party would not support it.

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Top image from CNA video.