Singapore has friendly neighbors

So now it isPolice in Singapore are allowed to use data from the contact tracing application

In Singapore there are signs of a change in data protection policy for contact tracing. Earlier this week, Interior Minister Desmond Tan announced in the city-state parliament that law enforcement authorities are allowed to access data from the state's application for tracking corona contacts. The tech medium ZDnet first reported about this yesterday (the parliamentary hearing can be viewed on YouTube, from minute 33:20).

Singapore was one of the first countries to launch a smartphone application for tracking risk contacts among people with Covid19. The TraceTogether app was already available for download in mid-March 2020. Like the German Corona warning app, it relies on Bluetooth Low Energy to locate other devices in the vicinity.

TraceTogether uses a partially decentralized approach in which the data is initially stored locally on people's devices. However, the process is less privacy-friendly than that of the German app, in which the data is only processed under changing pseudonyms. The users of TraceTogether receive a permanent ID. In the event of an infection or contact, the data of those affected will then be shared with the Ministry of Health.

According to ZDnet, the Singapore government has repeatedly emphasized in the past that "the data will only be accessed in the event of a positive test". This promise has now lapsed. During a question and answer session in parliament, Interior Minister Desmond Tan said that the criminal procedure code allows the investigative authorities to access any data they need. This also applies to the data from TraceTogether.

Following the session of Parliament, TraceTogether's data protection FAQ were updated accordingly. There it now says that the data of the app are also accessible to the police in accordance with legal requirements:

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.

There is strong demand for Bluetooth transmitters without an internet connection

Even if the use of the tracing app in Singapore was voluntary in the past, the police were already closely involved in tracking down contact persons, according to ZDnet. Among other things, police officers have supported the Ministry of Health in conducting surveys and sifting through material from surveillance cameras in order to locate people who have had contact with people infected with Covid-19.

The government also announced in September that it would make the use of TraceTogether compulsory in the future. According to ZDnet, the announcement has already led to a significant expansion of usage in the past few months. With 4.2 million people, almost 80 percent of the population now use the contact tracing application. It can be used with a smartphone as well as with a specially produced Bluetooth beacon.

The Singapore government also put the wearables into circulation to address privacy concerns. The transmitters have neither internet connection nor GPS functionality. According to Minister Tan ZDnet, at the parliamentary hearing, he was surprised at how well the small devices are being received. As a result, more than half of the users do not use TraceTogether with their smartphone.

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About the author


Ingo is a communication scientist and has been an editor at since 2016. He writes and speaks about data politics, surveillance capitalism and the digital structural change of the public. Ingo gives workshops for young and older people in digital self-defense and teaches at universities on the political economy of digital media. He also moderates events and discussions, for example at re: publica or at the Internet Political Evening in Berlin. Ingo is a member of the Digital Society Association and the EKD Chamber of Social Ethics and advises church organizations on digital transformation. Contact: Ingo is by mail to ingo | point | dachwitz | ett | (PGP key) available and on Twitter as @roofjoke.
Published 05/01/2021 at 6:34 PM