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Singapore to legislate on contact-trace data use for crimes

Singapore’s government plans to create urgent legislation to formalize the use of virus contact-tracing data in investigations of serious crimes.

Legislation will be introduced in the next sitting of parliament in February to limit the use of the data to probes of seven categories of serious crimes, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office said in a statement Friday. Those will include murder, terrorism, kidnapping, and serious sexual offenses, it said.

The move comes amid concerns over privacy issues in the city-state’s TraceTogether contact-tracing program designed to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“We acknowledge our error in not stating that data from TraceTogether is not exempt from the Criminal Procedure Code,” the office said.

TraceTogether is being used by 78% of Singapore’s population. According to its website, the program does not collect data about individual GPS locations, Wifi, or mobile networks being used. But a clause about data being only used to contact trace people exposed to the coronavirus was removed and replaced with a statement noting that police “can obtain any data, including TraceTogether data, for criminal investigations.”

“The government was unequivocal last year that the data would only be used for contact tracing and public health,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. It should “return to the original purpose of TraceTogether by firewalling that program’s data from police, prosecutors, and the criminal justice system,” he said.

Gerald Giam, a lawmaker for the opposition Workers’ Party, posted this week on Facebook that it’s “ill-advised” that the government hasn’t ruled out the use of TraceTogether data for criminal investigations.

“It is not in the public interest to completely deny the Police access to such data, when the safety of the public or the proper conduct of justice is at stake,” the office said in the statement. The country has already used it to investigate a murder case. — Ann Koh/Bloomberg

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