Singapore Says Contact Tracing Token ‘Not An Electronic Tag’

coronavirus Image credit: World Health Organisation

Singapore to distribute contact tracing device to all residents beginning later this month following low takeup of TraceTogether smartphone app

The Singapore government has said that a Covid-19 contact tracing device it plans to hand out to residents does not contain cellular, internet or GPS connectivity and cannot track users’ location.

The city-state gave more information on its automated contact-tracing plans on Monday in an effort to allay citizens’ privacy fears.

Privacy has come to the fore as governments around the world look for ways of speeding up the process of locating whom a person infected with the novel coronavirus may have come into contact with.

Singapore said last week it was looking to deploy a wearable digital token as part of its efforts to contain one of the highest Covid-19 caseloads in Asia.

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TraceTogether Token

Its earlier smartphone-based system, TraceTogether, had limited take-up and experienced technical problems due to incompatibility with Apple’s own privacy-centric technology.

Rather than adopt the contact-tracing platform developed by Apple and Google, Singapore indicated it would deploy what the government termed the TraceTogether Token.

Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister in charge of Singapore’s smart nation initiative, said the use of digital tools had cut the time to trace a patient’s contacts and issue quarantine orders from two or three days to one day.

He said the TraceTogether app had been downloaded 1.8 million times, or about 25 percent of the city’s population, but that more efforts needed to be made to contain the virus.

The device is expected to be ready in the second half of June and is to be handed out to all residents, beginning with those who do not have smartphones.

Voluntary takeup

Balakrishnan said the state’s efforts would focus on voluntary participation at first, but he did not rule out making the device compulsory.

He said the token has no network connectivity and that the data it stores can only be accessed with a person who tests positive for Covid-19 physically hands the device over to authorities.

Even then, only a select few contact tracers would have access to the data, he said.

“There’s no electronic tagging, no geolocation tracking,” Balakrishnan said, ZDNet reported.

In some areas, such as Hong Kong, electronic tags have been used to track people placed under quarantine.

The Bluetooth proximity data collected by token is stored locally and deleted automatically after 25 days.

Singapore residents remain concerned about privacy, however, with an online petition urging the public to reject the use of a wearable government contact-tracing device to date gaining more than 36,000 signatures.

The NHS has said that its contact-tracing app, currently in trials, should be ready for release by the end of June.

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