Singaporeans outrage over the government’s plan to issue a wearable device to each and every citizen to help in contact tracing coronavirus patients
Singapore is planning a novel way to keep Coronavirus infections under check. It has plans to provide each of its citizens with a wearable device which can be helpful in contact tracing the coronavirus infected patients. But it also has privacy implications. The App would not only monitor each and every Singaporean’s coronavirus status as it is intended to do but also alert the government about its citizen’s daily activities.
The plan to provide every Singaporean with a compulsory wearable device has raised a red flag among the citizenry. An online petition urging the public to reject its use has, to date, garnered more than 18,000 signatures at the time of writing this article.
The idea to issue a wearable device to Singaporeans is the brainchild of Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Smart Nation initiative. Balakrishnan mooted the idea of issuing a wearable device to Singaporean citizens during a parliament session. While speaking on Singapore’s contact tracing App TraceTogether and its reception among citizens, Balakrishnan said that a wearable device was necessary as it would not depend on someone owning a smartphone. He added that the TraceTogether App did not work well with iPhones as it suspends Bluetooth scanning when the contact tracing app was running in the background. To overcome these difficulties, Balakrishnan said his team was developing and would “soon roll out a portable wearable device”.
Balakrishnan added that for the wearable devices to be a effective contact tracing tool they might be issued to every resident in Singapore. However, he did not say anything about making it mandatory for the Singaporeans to wear it.
However, the Singapore’s citizens were not convinced. There was immediately an uproar in the social media networks regarding the government’s wearable device plans. Soon an online petition headlined “Singapore says ‘No’ to wearable devices for COVID-19 contact tracing” was put up which immediately went viral in Singapore. The petition was started by Wilson Low who is a privacy activist.
The petition says that the wearable device is
blatant infringement upon our rights to privacy, personal space, and freedom of movement. All that is stopping the Singapore government from becoming a surveillance state is the advent and mandating the compulsory usage of such a wearable device. What comes next would be laws that state these devices must not be turned off [or]remain on a person at all times — thus, sealing our fate as a police state.
Some Singaporeans went to Minister Balakrishnan’s Facebook page to urge him and the government to take back this proposal. Francis Lum, a Facebook user commented on the Minister’s FB page, “Can the government explore technologies that doesn’t interfere with people’s daily living? We are not one big giant high surveillance prison, are we? Too intrusive. This is like an electronic tag for prisoners or offenders.”
Singapore is a small nation with only about 5,850,342 people. This small population makes it easy for the Government to make every person compulsorily wear the wearable device for contact tracing. And that is what is riling the Singaporeans.