Asia Singapore "TraceForever"? Suspicions arise that TraceTogether is here for the long haul after...

“TraceForever”? Suspicions arise that TraceTogether is here for the long haul after GovTech job ad

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Will TraceTogether become ‘TraceForever’?


In March 2020, the government introduced ‘TraceTogether’, a mobile phone app developed by the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) to enhance contract tracing efforts. It used what the government dubbed the ‘bluetrace protocol’ — technology leveraging the Bluetooth feature on mobile phones to track proximity between users and record extended face-to-face encounters.

GovTech claims that the app is non-intrusive and uses an encrypted ‘digital handshake’ between devices. The data is stored on users’ mobile devices until contact tracing is activated. Users will be asked to grant permission for the data to be sent to the Ministry of Health for contact tracing. For those who can’t or don’t want to use a smartphone app, the government also offers TraceTogether tokens, small digital fobs that serve the same purpose.

When the app was released, critics and activist said that there is little clarity about whether the data from the app can be sent to the government for broader surveillance use. Aside from repeated assurances that the application does not collect location data, GovTech did not adequately clarify how future updates of the application might prevent the risk of abuse through tracking targeted individuals.

The Government however assuaged fears fears by repeatedly assuring Singaporeans that the data collected with such technology would be used only for contact tracing during the pandemic. In early January 2021, the government’s claim was proven to be false.

The Singapore Government confirmed that data could actually be accessed by the police for criminal investigations.

The day after this admission, a minister revealed that such data had, in fact, already been used in a murder investigation. It rapidly became clear that despite what ministers had previously said, Singapore’s laws meant it had been possible for law enforcement to use TraceTogether data all along. These revelations triggered public anger and criticism because people felt they had been subjected to a bait-and-switch.

Now an advertisement from GovTech in LinkedIn has set tongues wagging that the app is here to stay for the long haul. Reddit user Usukmordanidoo uploaded a screenshot of a job listing from GovTech looking to hire a Senior Product Manager, specifically for TraceTogether and SafeEntry, on March 9, titling the post with: “Saw this on LinkedIn… If GovTech is hiring, it means it’s here to stay for… ever?”

The screenshot immediately garnered varied responses from other users, including some who speculated that it might just be “Traceforever”.

Other users wondered if there would be any new features added to the app. Yet others were concerned that the candidate would be retrenched once TraceTogether is phased out.

On March 3rd, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said measures for contact tracing, TraceTogether and SafeEntry, will continue until Singapore authorities are sure that COVID-19 is “no longer epidemic”.

“We need to wait until we no longer need vaccine-differentiated measures. We need to make sure, wait until we’re quite sure that the pandemic and COVID-19 is no longer epidemic, but is endemic,” he said.

“And we have not reached that point yet.”

TraceTogether and SafeEntry continue to play important roles in Singapore’s pandemic response system, said Dr Puthucheary, who is also Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information.

They enable verification checks into venues or activities where vaccination-differentiated measures are in force, as well as enable authorities to issue health risk warnings and notices quickly, he added.

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