Last Friday (5 June), Minister Vivian Balakrishnan announced in Parliament that a wearable device for contract tracing may be issued to everyone in Singapore to aid contact tracing efforts. Over the past weekend, the proposed device became the subject of controversy online as many voiced their concerns and reservations.
One Wilson Law started a petition on change.org titled “Singapore says ‘No’ to wearable devices for COVID-19 contact tracing” which has garnered a whopping 36,000 signatories at the time of writing.
As the title suggests, the petition argues against the “development of this contact tracing device”.
We – as free, independent, and lawful members of the public of Singapore – condemn the device’s implementation as blatant infringements upon our rights to privacy, personal space, and freedom of movement. We reject the notion that the non-efficacy of the Trace Together initiative be superceded by a regime that could potentially require all members of the public (regardless of their age, susceptibility to disease, or health status) to give up these rights under fear – not of infection from Covid-19 – but of prosecution by the state.
On Sunday (7 June), the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) released a statement authored by its Assistant Secretary-General Ariffin Sha where it set out its concerns about the proposed tracing device. This statement has since been shared almost 150 times.
In the statement, the SPP expressed deep concern and urged the Government to “tread with utmost caution and regard for the privacy of Singaporeans”.
The Party also raised concerns in relation to cybersecurity issues and highlighted the Government’s recent track record in relation to cybersecurity, noting that it “leaves much to be desired”.
It asked the Government to answer the three following questions before implementing such “drastic and draconian” measures:-
- Are there other means which are less invasive which can also aid contact tracing which have yet to be exhausted?
- Will there be an independent body established to exercise oversight over the collection and use of the data?
- Can the Government guarantee that the data collected will not be breached or hacked?
The SPP also addressed the often-cited argument that one will have nothing to fear if one has nothing to hide by stating: “Privacy is a fundamental right and is about protecting information, not hiding it. A lack of privacy can create very serious risks, at both an individual and national level.”
The Party concluded by stating that “extraordinary measures also do require extraordinary evidence and justification” and calling the Government to use more proportionate measures which can serve the same end.
The following day, the SPP published a short follow-up statement which clarified that “SafeEntry Information is not used to identify and alert others who have gone to places visited by confirmed COVID-19 patients”.
It also questioned why persons who may have come into contact with COVID-19 patients are not alerted using the data collected by SafeEntry.
Minister Balakrishnan’s Clarification
On Monday (8 June), Minister Balakrishnan gave more information on the tracing device. He clarified that the devices will not have GPS capabilities or mobile internet connectivity.
On his Facebook page, he assured commentators that the device is “NOT a tracking device”, adding that the Government is “actually being far more protective of privacy than in many other jurisdictions”.
During a press conference, Minister Balakrishnan added that the devices will operate the same way as TraceTogether. He also said that there is “no possibility” of the data being uploaded without the prior consent of the user.
He repeatedly emphasised that the TraceTogether token is not a tracking device and that the data collected will be decentralized and encrypted. When addressing concerns about data protection, he stated that all the officers involved are covered by the Official Secrets Act.
The Ministers’ speech can be viewed in full here: