Ever since the not-so-successful TraceTogether, the government has decided to come up with a new corona tracking measure.
Namely, the wearable contact-tracing device.
News of this has gained traction over the last few days. You got some people even signing a petition against it, claiming it invades personal privacy.
Not the best first reaction to something supposedly helpful.
Luckily, we actually have some good news regarding this new device. One that doesn’t involve totally breaking your privacy.
But first, let’s double back on why we even need this device in the first place: TraceTogether’s issues.
Issues With Some Phones
Or more specifically, Apple Devices.
The TraceTogether app identifies people in close contact with a coronavirus patient via wireless Bluetooth technology.
However, when an iPhone even minimises the app, the Bluetooth function turns off with it. This then limits the amount of accurate data.
Additionally, only 1.5 million people have downloaded the app which amounts to only a quarter of the population.
So yeah, not the greatest success.
Which brings us to the good news today.
Will Not Track Location
I can sense a lot of eyes widening but don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a moment.
According to The Straits Times, the tracking device will not track an individual’s location.
In fact, those who prefer to use TraceTogether will still be able to do so.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Balakrishnan, recently responded to his Facebook video posted on 5 June some queries from the public.
He addresses the aforementioned concern, stating that “It acts as a personal diary, uses Bluetooth proximity data to collate prolonged close contacts.”
The data in the personal device is encrypted and erased automatically after 25 days. Unless the person is infected, the information stays in the device.
Huge sigh of relief there.
He also says that the device was to aid those without smartphones or whose phones could not run the app well.
Additionally, it will be able to communicate with TraceTogether to maximise transmissions.
Dr Balakrishnan also added that the device’s battery should last many months. Hence, it would not be replacing things like EZ-Link or other transport cards.
His full video on the contact-tracing device can be found below:
Quick and accurate contact tracing is necessary and all the more essential now that we are emerging from the circuit breaker. TraceTogether, as a digital tool, has provided data that is very helpful for our contact tracers when used in combination with other data sources, to speed up the isolation of close contacts and reduce the spread of COVID-19. The app has since been enhanced with new features. But we recognise that there are certain limitations with using the app. So we are working on wearable portable devices to enhance and support our contact tracing efforts. While we work at continually improving TraceTogether, I urge more of you to download and use the app so that we can ensure that our family, friends, loved ones and the community-at-large remain protected.Addendum in response to concerns about privacy:This is NOT a tracking device. Our contact tracing app and device do NOT track location. There is no GPS or mobile internet connectivity in the device. It acts as a personal electronic diary, uses Bluetooth proximity data to collate prolonged close contacts, encrypts the data in your personal device, auto erases after 25 days and never leaves the device unless you are infected. If and only if that happens, then the data is used by authorised contact tracers to find people who may have inadvertently infected by you. All of us would want to know if we had been exposed to someone who was infective so that we can take the necessary precautions. The more of us who are on the system, the safer it is for everyone. We have to get the balance right between public health and personal privacy. It is possible to protect both. You can watch the video of my speech in Parliament below, or read the transcript here: https://go.gov.sg/parliament-replies-tracetogether[Video credit: MCI]
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday, 5 June 2020
So maybe now you’d think, “Maybe people won’t be so uptight about it, right?”
However, there are those who still express concern about the device.
Opposing Views From Opposition
In fact, the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) released a statement on Facebook in response to Dr Balakrishnan’s video.
The post was made by the party’s assistant secretary-general Ariffin Sha.
They express concern that regardless of the pandemic, the government should be mindful of using such a device.
Concern over cybersecurity was also indicated and they cited past incidents such as the leaking of 14000 HIV-positive individuals last year.
As mentioned, a petition was also started for those who wanted to reject this new device. It currently has over 30000 signatures as of this writing.
However, a lawyer from Pinsent Masons MPillay defended the proposed device, saying that it will have privacy implemented by design, much like TraceTogether, so users should not worry too much.
This whole contact tracing thing seems to be at a standstill for now. Only time will tell the end result of this situation.