TechnologyDamaged guarantees: How Singapore misplaced belief on contact tracing...

Damaged guarantees: How Singapore misplaced belief on contact tracing privateness


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For Singaporeans, the covid-19 pandemic has been carefully intertwined with expertise: two applied sciences, to be particular. The primary is the QR code, whose little black-and-white squares have been ubiquitous all around the nation as a part of the SafeEntry contact tracing system rolled out in April and Might. 

Below SafeEntry, anybody coming into a public venue—eating places, shops, malls—should scan a code and register with a reputation, ID or passport quantity, and telephone quantity. If anyone assessments optimistic for covid-19, contact tracers use it to trace down those that received shut sufficient to be probably contaminated.

There’s additionally TraceTogether, an app that launched in March 2020. It uses Bluetooth to ping close contacts; if two customers are in proximity, their devices trade anonymized and encrypted user IDs that may be decrypted by the Ministry of Well being ought to one particular person take a look at optimistic for covid-19. 

For individuals who can’t or don’t wish to use a smartphone app, the federal government additionally presents TraceTogether tokens, small digital fobs that serve the identical function. And whereas TraceTogether is at present voluntary, the federal government has introduced that it’s going to merge the 2 methods, which would make it mandatory to either download the app or collect a token.

When the 2 methods had been launched, there wasn’t a lot area for the general public to debate apprehensions: they had been seen as essential to struggle the pandemic, and the Singaporean authorities acted in typical top-down trend. It did search to assuage fears, nonetheless, by repeatedly assuring Singaporeans that the info collected with such expertise could be used solely for contact tracing in the course of the pandemic. 

And that’s the place issues went improper.

Non-public knowledge being utilized by police

Earlier this month, it emerged that the government’s claim was false. The Ministry of Residence Affairs confirmed that knowledge may truly be accessed by the police for felony investigations; the day after this admission, a minister revealed that such knowledge had, in fact, already been used in a murder investigation. It quickly grew to become clear that regardless of what ministers had beforehand stated, Singaporean regulation meant it had been potential for regulation enforcement to make use of TraceTogether knowledge all alongside.

These revelations triggered public anger and criticism, not essentially as a result of Singaporeans are notably privateness aware—in truth, state surveillance is essentially normalized within the nation—however as a result of individuals felt they’d been subjected to a bait-and-switch. Many individuals had reservations about TraceTogether when it was first launched, and solely started utilizing it in giant numbers after the federal government indicated that it will quickly change into necessary. (In accordance with the cochair of the duty drive on covid-19, nearly 80% of Singapore’s residents have adopted TraceTogether.)

The federal government has since announced that it’s going to introduce new laws to restrict regulation enforcement’s use of contact tracing knowledge to probes into seven particular classes of offense, together with terrorism, homicide, kidnapping, and probably the most severe drug trafficking instances. (The MIT Technology Review Covid Tracing Tracker, which screens the insurance policies round publicity notification apps worldwide, is being up to date to replicate this shift.)

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