What initially started out as a voluntary program to help the government track the spread of the coronavirus will soon be compulsory for anyone who wants to go pretty much anywhere, including malls, stores, and restaurants.
The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office announced today that TraceTogether will be mandatory for everyone checking in at various locations starting in June. When that happens, Singaporeans can no longer check-in using their IDs, the SingPass digital identity app, or even by scanning a QR code.
“The implementation of TraceTogether-Only SafeEntry will enhance our digital contact tracing as we prepare for the further opening of the economy and travel borders,” the government agency said in its announcement. Group check-ins will still be allowed.
The TraceTogether contact-tracing system consists of the app and a hardware device called the TraceTogether token. Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who is one of the officials leading Singapore’s coronavirus response, said in January that more than 4 million were using TraceTogether. Earlier this month, he told Straits Times that about a million had downloaded the app.
The app was introduced in March 2020. Ministers initially stressed that it would be voluntary, with users having to give explicit consent to participate. But that changed toward the end of the year, when the government said more people needed to use it before containment measures could be further relaxed.
As more used TraceTogether, the system became embroiled in controversy over privacy concerns that data was being used for purposes other than containing the coronavirus, prompting February legislation allowing the use of TraceTogether data for criminal investigations in seven categories of serious crimes including terrorism and drug trafficking.
TraceTogether was developed by the Government Technology Agency, or GovTech, and was said to be inspired by a 2014 U.S. high school project that aimed to help combat that Ebola outbreak. According to Reuters, project member and Stanford University student Rohan Suri shared the code for his KTrace app, which became the basis for TraceTogether, after he was contacted by a senior GovTech director, who happened to be an alum.
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