Government Backtracks on TraceTogether; Betrays Citizens’ Trust

When Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan revealed in parliament yesterday that the police can obtain TraceTogether data for criminal investigations (and had already accessed it for a murder case), many Singaporeans felt cheated. Some even deleted the app altogether.

The government had initially assured the public last year that TraceTogether data would not be used for anything besides contact tracing. During an 8 June press conference, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said that TraceTogether data would be used “purely for contact tracing, period”.

The latest revelation however left many feeling upset that the government has gone back on its word.

Responding to the issue in the house, Dr Balakrishnan said that he had not thought of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) when he spoke earlier. However, he offered no apology for misleading the public with inaccurate information.

It is also concerning that other ministers were content with what Dr Balakrishnan said earlier and did not point out his error then.

Although this is not the first time the government has been accused of policy backpedaling, the current controversy over the use of TraceTogether data is, to many Singaporeans, a massive breach of trust.

Last June, after Dr Balakrishnan’s announcement of the TraceTogether device, a petition called “Singapore says ‘No’ to wearable devices for Covid-19 contact tracing” was started amid privacy concerns and got close to 30000 signatures in three days.

If anything, the turn of events confirmed doubts about data privacy and is likely to further dampen people’s faith in the government.