Another dot in the blogosphere?


Posted on: January 6, 2021

It has been more than a day after Channel News Asia (CNA) reported this parliamentary exchange. We found out that TraceTogether data — collected by tokens or phone apps for COVID-19 contact tracing — could also be used for criminal investigations.

Apparently this is part of an umbrella safety policy where “citizen safety and security is or has been affected” [YouTube video of parliamentary exchange when this was mentioned]. This was news to me.

I downloaded the app and collected my token under the promise that the data had a singular purpose. Re the same CNA report:

A privacy statement on the TraceTogether website had earlier said the data would only be used “for contact tracing purposes”.

Here is one response from an academic at NUS:

In a tweet thread, he related how he had also co-authored a paper cautioning against the secondary use of such data. His rationales:

  • The gains from the secondary use of such data is small compared to the risk of loss of public trust.
  • The use the token or app is practically mandatory given the need to enter public spaces like malls and train stations. This favours surveillance at the cost of privacy.

My thoughts? I am all for TraceTogether for the purpose it was designed for. If we extend its use without the express consent of its stakeholders, we are make the mistake that developers of information systems try to avoid, i.e., the unintended and unexpected consequences of data use and manipulation.

We already have extensive surveillance in the form of our near ubiquitous CCTVs. You need only make the effort to count how many you walk by as you go about your business. Is extending the use of TraceTogether data for crime investigation worth the cost of breaking TrustTogether?

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