Parliamentary Speeches

COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill - Wrap-Up Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Published: 02 February 2021

1. Madam Deputy Speaker, I will take the opportunity to address some of the questions that were raised by Members of the House pertaining to contact-tracing data used by Police investigations.

2. First, Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin and Mr Louis Ng asked about using contact-tracing data for cases where the initial charge for a serious offence is subsequently reduced or amended to a less or non-serious offence, or if the serious offence reveals a separate non-serious offence. The Police and Prosecution will not be able to use the contact-tracing data for prosecution of a non-serious offence. This is what we are trying to say in this Bill. There could be a situation where the suspect is investigated for both serious and non-serious offences committed at the same time. In criminal proceedings for such cases, which may be dealt with in a joint trial conference covering both the serious and non-serious offence, it would not be feasible to separate the data used for investigations of these offences. But should the offences be dealt with separately in separate trials, then the Prosecution will not be able to use the data in prosecution for the related non-serious offence.

3. Mr Pritam Singh asked about Police’s use of TraceTogether (TT) data, and Mr Leong Mun Wai also asked when Police first accessed TT data. The Police have only requested for TT data once, for a murder that occurred in May 2020, in line with their powers under the CPC. As the TT app was not installed in the suspect’s phone, there was no useful data obtained.

4. Mr Pritam Singh and Ms Nadia also asked about the usefulness of the contact-tracing data for criminal investigations. It is understandable that in any investigation, every piece of information is potentially useful and helpful. Our current framework under the CPC has enabled the Police to do their job efficiently and effectively, and Singapore has thus been kept safe and secure.

5. Let me give a hypothetical example: Assume a terrorist attack has occurred, and Police are trying to prevent more attacks. In such a situation, contact tracing data could be critical information that we could use to identify any other persons involved in the planned attacks and uncover any terrorist ring as quickly as possible. As you can see, when it comes to investigations, time is of the essence. If Police had intelligence and access to contact-tracing data that could help stop attacks from taking place. I believe Members in this House would not say no.

6. Ms Sylvia Lim asked if we can give more than one example that Minister Vivian had given in his opening speech. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I ask the Clerks to distribute an Annex that I have prepared, containing examples for each of the seven categories of serious offences. Members can go through these scenarios and examples, and ask ourselves – would we really say that the information should not be used by the Police in such situations?

7. Ms Tin Pei Ling asked about the safeguards in Police’s access to the data. First, while the Criminal Procedure Code (or CPC) specifies that production orders can only be made by officers with rank of sergeant and above, we in fact intend to require the rank of requesting officer for contact tracing data to be higher. All requests for contact tracing data will have to be made by an officer of ‘Inspector’ rank and above. This is the same level of approving authority for bank data that we request from financial institutions. Second, within the Police, all requests for contact-tracing data must be approved by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Singapore Police Force, which is the staff authority for all investigation-related matters within the SPF. Third, the receiving party will only be required to comply with the order to disclose the data to the Police, if it is in relation to a serious offence. Any public sector officers including Police who uses or discloses the data for a non-serious offence would have committed an offence. Lastly, all extracted data will be encrypted and kept in strict confidence. Only authorised officers will have access to the encrypted data. Mechanisms will be put in place to ensure restricted access and to maintain logs on the officers who have accessed the data. And of course, if the data is used in Court, it will be seen whether the offence does or does not fall within the seven specified categories.

8. Ms Jessica Tan cited a situation where an individual’s lost token was used to commit a serious crime. As part of an investigation, Police will holistically assess the leads and evidence, including TT data in cases where this may be obtained. If a person assisting in investigation claims that he had lost his TT token, this would also be looked into by the Police. My advice is that upon the discovery of the loss of the TT token, one should quickly get a replacement at any Community Club, so as not to compromise contact-tracing efforts.

9. My Sylvia Lim asked about my statement in Parliament last month about accessing suspect’s and witness’s contact-tracing data. Under the CPC, Police are entitled to access data from anyone. What was meant was that operationally, in order not to compromise investigations, Police are more likely to approach witnesses first for data, in order not to tip off suspects. In this Bill, Police are empowered to access data from all persons for investigating the serious crimes that are set out in the Bill.

10. Ms Sylvia Lim also asked why the exact list of offences is not specified. Describing the categories of scheduled offences, rather than the specified offences themselves, is an approach that we have employed in other Acts. For example, the Extradition Act takes a similar approach. The seven categories of offences relating to serious offences that will be obvious prima facie. On Ms Sylvia’s question regarding what is included under the category of serious sexual crimes, only rape and sexual assault with penetration will be covered. It will not cover other sexual assault involving mentally challenged victims. The Police cannot use contact-tracing data that fall outside of the seven categories. Should Police officer make  a request, SNDGO and MOH would not be permitted to provide the data.

11. Various Members asked to expand Police’s use of contact-tracing data to other offences that are not covered or not included in the seven categories, such as outrage of modesty or offences against vulnerable persons. Indeed, the data would be useful, and would assist Police to solve these crimes. However, we had to make a judgement call on the balance between the two imperatives of public health and public safety that Minister Vivian talked about. Outrage of modesty and offences against vulnerable persons are of grave concern to the Police and public, but rank below the seven categories in seriousness. This was a very tough balancing act for MHA.

12. Nonetheless, I would like to assure Members that the Police will continue to investigate all offences even though they are not in the seven categories of serious offences.

13. Ms Sylvia Lim and others spoke about Australia’s model. Every country is different. Singapore had to decide what model and what we value. We score exceptionally well on safety and security because of the approach that we have taken and that we have decided on. I have a graphic here, and I will distribute to Members by email, at the end of today, to illustrate this point.

14. We are here today, our security situation and safety is the result of the model and decision we have taken, in terms of our law enforcement policy. I am heartened that many Members expressed their support and trust in the Police. This trust and support is very precious to us, which we will guard zealously. I would like to assure Members that Police will continue to do whatever they can to ensure public safety, and to pursue all leads in our investigations.

Thank you.

Annex (168kb, .pdf)