Singapore Police Can Now Access Contact Tracing Data, Breaching Privacy - Identity Review - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

On January 4, the Singaporean government announced that contact tracing data from its widely-used TraceTogether app would now be available to the police to be used in criminal investigations.

The TraceTogether app was one of the first large-scale digital contact tracing efforts introduced by any country, having initially launched in March 2020. It has now accumulated over 4.5 million users, or about 80% of Singapore’s population.

The announcement is a blow in the face of consumer data privacy, as the government had initially said that the data would “only be used solely for the purpose of contact tracing of persons possibly exposed to COVID-19.” Enrollment in the app is practically mandatory after the government announced that TraceTogether check-ins would be required at most public venues, including shopping malls and restaurants. Following that update, enrollment in the app shot up from around 45% of the population to over 80%.

Dangerous Data During COVID-19

Many groups have become worried that governments are exploiting consumer privacy and overreaching in their data collection under the guise of COVID-19 contact tracing. For instance, the German police was strongly criticized by restaurants and customers for using their contact tracing data—usually in the form of a name and phone number supplied by customers to help track them down in case they’ve been exposed—to aid in their criminal investigations.

Additionally, some are concerned that implementation of a widespread contact tracing system would hurt marginalized communities and only serve to exacerbate inequalities during the pandemic. For example, groups living in poverty would be less likely to have the necessary technology required to participate in contact tracing, and some may be disinclined to participate due to fear of their data landing in the hands of police or immigration authorities. These concerns are extremely valid and relevant in the current digital era, and have even been acknowledged by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in December when he signed a law placing privacy safeguards preventing contact tracing data from being shared with police and immigration enforcement.

With a 0.05% coronavirus fatality rate, the lowest in the world, Singapore’s response to the pandemic has garnered international praise. Notably, though, their restrictions and contact tracing efforts have also been much more serious, especially compared to Western countries such as the United States. While they may be winning the battle against COVID-19, the recent developments with their contact tracing data indicates they may be on a slippery slope concerning consumer data privacy.


Lydia You is a computer scientist from Princeton University living in New York City. She is a Tech Innovation Fellow at Identity Review covering the intersection of global tech policy, internet culture and the future of digital media.

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