Singapore’s police now have access to contact tracing data

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The news: Police will be able to access data collected by Singapore’s covid-19 contact tracing system for use in criminal investigations, a senior official said on Monday. The announcement contradicts the privacy policy originally outlined when the government launched its TraceTogether app in March 2020, and is being criticized as a backpedal just after participation in contact tracing was made mandatory. 

Officials said that while policy had stated that data would “only be used solely for the purpose of contact tracing of persons possibly exposed to covid-19”, the legal reality in Singapore is that police can access any data for criminal investigations—and that contact tracing data was no different. Its privacy policy was changed on January 4, 2021 to clarify “how the Criminal Procedure Code applies to all data under Singapore’s jurisdiction.” 

Early mover: TraceTogether is accessed via a smartphone app or a small wearable device, and is used by nearly 80% of Singapore’s 5.7 million residents. It was the first of the major Bluetooth contact tracing apps unveiled in the spring of 2020, and its data is more centralized than the Apple-Google system used in many other places around the world. Singapore ruled out using the Apple-Google system itself because officials there said they wanted more detailed infection information). Participation in contact tracing was once voluntary, but the government rolled that back late last year and there are now mandatory check-ins at most places where people work, shop, and gather.

The country’s approach to the pandemic has been forceful in many ways, not just when it comes to contact tracing technology. For example, people caught without a mask in public face large fines.