Vivian Balakrishnan takes 'full responsibility' for anxiety, consternation over TraceTogether data

He also highlighted several key points of the Amendment Bill.

Joshua Lee | February 02, 2021, 02:46 PM

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Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Vivian Balakrishnan, takes full responsibility for the "consternation" and "anxiety" caused by the revelation that TraceTogether data can be used for police investigations.

Vivian said this in Parliament today (February 2), while giving his speech during the second reading of the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill.

TraceTogether is privacy-protecting by design: Vivian

Highlighting the importance of contact tracing, Vivian explained that TraceTogether is "fundamentally privacy-protecting by design".

"TraceTogether only collects proximity data, which is necessary to identify close contacts. TraceTogether does not collect GPS location nor movement data. Furthermore, the app and the token only keep a temporary record, in an encrypted form, locally on the device.

The data is automatically purged after 25 days. The Government also intends to deactivate TraceTogether, along with other digital contact tracing programmes, once the pandemic is over."

On using TraceTogether data in the investigation of severe crimes, Vivian said that it would be "unconscionable to inhibit the ability of the Police to act, when it comes to a serious offence that affects someone’s life or safety".

"It would not be right – in fact it would be untenable – to adopt a purist ideological stance and deliberately refuse to check that data."

Some important points to note about TraceTogether data

The rest of his speech touched on four key thrusts of the Amendment Bill, which you might want be apprised of:

Firstly, the personal contact tracing data defined in the legislation covers entry or exit records, proximity information and other data collected using any digital contact tracing tools.

Digital contract tracing tools here include TraceTogether, SafeEntry as well as BluePass (a private sector contact tracing system which can be interoperable with TraceTogether).

Second, aside from contact tracing, the TraceTogether data can only be used for investigations or criminal proceedings of serious crimes. There are seven categories of serious crimes:

Third, the Government cannot use the data for any purpose other than those mentioned above, regardless of any other written law requiring or allowing the disclosure of the data.

"This will give added assurance that there are no further scenarios where public agencies may use the data apart from the purposes stated in this Bill," said Vivian.

Lastly, there is a clause in the BIll which allows the Minister to specify a date after which a digital contact tracing system is no longer required to prevent or control the spread of Covid-19. Personal contact tracing data must then be deleted.

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Top image credits: MCI/YouTube, Mothership file photo