Singapore Lets Police Use Coronavirus Tracing Data for Criminal Cases

A Government Technology Agency (GovTech) staff demonstrates Singapore's new contact-tracing smarthphone app called TraceTogether, as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Singapore on March 20, 2020. - The mobile app using Bluetooth technology developed by GovTech in collaboration with the Ministry of Health informs user who had close …
CATHERINE LAI/AFP via Getty Images

Singapore police used coronavirus contact tracing data from the government’s TraceTogether app to investigate a murder case sometime in the past several months, Singaporean government ministers admitted on Tuesday, according to the South China Morning Post.

“Police have already used the information from the Singapore government’s TraceTogether program in just one investigation so far – a murder case,” ministers said in Singapore’s parliament on Tuesday, according to the Hong Kong-based newspaper.

Singapore’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, Desmond Tan, revealed on Monday that police in the Southeast Asian city-state are allowed to access the app’s contact tracing data under Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code.

“The SPF [Singapore Police Force] is empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to obtain any data, and that includes the TraceTogether data,” the interior minister said in parliament, according to the Singapore-based Channel News Asia (CNA).

“The Government is the custodian of the TT (TraceTogether) data submitted by the individuals and stringent measures are put in place to safeguard this personal data,” Tan said.

“Examples of these measures include only allowing authorized officers to access the data, using such data only for authorized purposes, and storing the data on a secured data platform,” he added.

Tan made the admission after he was asked by a Singapore member of parliament, Christopher de Souza, “if TraceTogether data will be used for criminal investigations and what the legal provisions and safeguards are for using such data,” according to CNA.

A member of Singapore’s parliament named Gerald Giam asked Tan if the SPF’s use of the data shared on Trace Together would violate the government app’s policy on data privacy.

“We do not preclude the use of TraceTogether data in circumstances where citizens’ safety and security is or has been affected, and this applies to all other data as well,” Tan said in response.

A privacy statement on TraceTogether’s government website had previously said that data submitted to the app by people in Singapore would be used “for contact tracing purposes” only, according to CNA.

Shortly after Tan’s revelation in parliament on Monday, the TraceTogether website altered its privacy statement to include the following lines:

Also, we want to be transparent with you. TraceTogether data may be used in circumstances where citizen safety and security is or has been affected. Authorized Police officers may invoke Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) powers to request users to upload their TraceTogether data for criminal investigations.

“The Singapore Police Force is empowered under the CPC to obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations,” the statement added.

Under Singapore’s Public Sector (Governance) Act, “public officers who recklessly or knowingly disclose data” from the TraceTogether app “without authorization, or misuse the data, may be fined up to S$5,000 [$3,796] or jailed up to two years, or both,” Tan said in parliament on Monday.

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