350 asked to have TraceTogether data deleted over past month: Vivian Balakrishnan

Dhany Osman
·2-min read
A mobile phone displaying Singapore's TraceTogether contact tracing application. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
A mobile phone displaying Singapore's TraceTogether contact tracing application. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Over the past month, 350 people have written in to the authorities to request that their TraceTogether (TT) data be deleted.

However, over 390,000 people have come on board the system during the same period, said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, in Parliament on Tuesday (2 February).

“Every one of that 350 who has requested us to delete (their data) is a source of regret for me. Because at least 350 have, for a variety of reasons, decided to forgo the protection that TraceTogether offers them and their loved ones,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan was replying to queries from fellow Members of Parliament during the second reading of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Amendment Bill.

The Bill, which was later passed on the same day, seeks to – among other things – defines that the authorities can only access data from the TT, SafeEntry and BluePass systems only for the purpose of contact tracing or the investigation of serious criminal offences.

It comes following the public outcry over the revelation during a Parliament session in January that TT data can be used under the Criminal Procedure Code to give police access to such information. The consternation also arose as Dr Balakrishnan assured during a Multi-Ministry Taskforce press conference in June last year that TT data would only be used for contact tracing.

Emphasising that the TT take-up rate in January was a sign that the public still has faith in the system, Dr Balakrishnan said, “I don't want to belabour this but my simple conclusion or inference is that Singaporeans know that I misspoke, but they also trust that the TraceTogether system is safe.”

Not setting a precedent

Responding to concerns raised by several Members of Parliament as to whether the Bill would set a precedent for how the government makes use of data from digital solutions in the future, Dr Balakrishnan assured the House that this would not be the case.

“Our decision today to only include serious offences, to tightly scope the use of personal contact tracing data, is a a result of a delicate balance between the right to public health, the right to public security and respecting the sensitivity of personal data...This Bill is about ensuring maximum support from the public in our fight against COVID-19. I want to stress this Bill is not a precedent,” he said.

Noting that issues such as privacy and data governance are broad and complex, Dr Balakrishnan said they would need careful contemplation, consultation and open debate to be addressed.

“This should not be settled on a Certificate of Emergency in one day. There will be proper occasions in the future to do this,” he added.

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