Coronavirus (COVID-19) Tech World

Tue 05 January 2021:

Singapore has admitted its law enforcers will be able to access the country’s COVID-19 contact tracing data for criminal investigations, a decision likely to increase privacy concerns around the system.

Officials had previously explicitly ruled out the data would be used for anything other than the virus tracking.

But parliament was told on Monday it could also be used “for the purpose of criminal investigation”.

“The Singapore police force is empowered … to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations,” the minister of state for home affairs, Desmond Tan, said on Monday in response to a question in parliament.

The privacy statement on the TraceTogether website says: “Data will only be used for Covid-19 contact tracing.”


In its efforts to ease privacy concerns, the Singapore government had stressed repeatedly that COVID-19 data would “never be accessed unless the user tests positive” for the virus and was contacted by the contact tracing team. Personal data such as unique identification number and mobile number also would be substituted by a random permanent ID and stored on a secured server. 

Tan said the Singapore government was the “custodian” of the contact tracing data and “stringent measures” had been established to safeguard the personal data. “Examples of these measures include only allowing authorised officers to access the data, using such data only for authorised purposes, and storing the data on a secured data platform,” he said.

He added that public officers who knowingly disclose the data without authorisation or misuse the data may be fined up to SG$5,000 or jailed up to two years, or both. 

The prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has previously said privacy concerns about the technology had to be weighed against the need to curb the spread of the virus and keep the economy open.

Singapore has reported only a handful of local Covid-19 cases in the past few months, and its extensive disease surveillance and contact tracing efforts have won international praise including from the World Health Organization.

Similar concerns about police access to contact tracing data in the UK had prompted the country’s Department for Health and Social Care to say neither the police nor the government would receive any data from its contact tracing app. 

In a tweet last October, the UK National Health Service said user data of its COVID-19 app was anonymous and the app could not be used to track users’ location, for law enforcement, or to monitor self-isolation and social distancing. The contact tracing app then had clocked more than 18 million downloads since its launch in September.

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