Singapore is on the cusp of rolling out a mandatory COVID-19 tracing program that will identify people who had come in contact with virus carriers. The program will distribute tiny microchips to all 5.7 million residents, in what will be the most extensive tracing program globally, reported Reuters.
The city-state, located in Southeast Asia, has already developed a tracing app for smartphones, called TraceToegether, to identify people who have interacted with virus carriers. The app was downloaded by more than 1.5 million residents but did not work well on iPhones since Bluetooth activity goes dormant when app runs in the background.
Singapore officials overseeing the tracing app had several discussions with Apple, but no resolutions were found.
Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan spoke with Parliament on Friday, gave members of the government update on the tracing program:
"Because TraceTogether does not work equally well across all smartphones, we have decided therefore, at this point, not to mandate the compulsory use of TraceTogether.
"We are developing and will soon roll out a portable wearable device that will … not depend on the possession of a smartphone.
"If this portable device works. We may then distribute it to everyone in Singapore … This will be more inclusive, and it will ensure that all of us will be protected," Balakrishnan told Parliament.
Balakrishna said the pivot to wearables would mean residents will have to wear a tiny microchip at the end of lanyard or can be carried in pocket or bag. He expects it to be rolled out in the near term.
The technology behind the wearable was not discussed, and at what range the government can track people.
There are many privacy concerns about tracing devices. Especially when the government wants widespread use, it will have to make it mandatory. Other concerns are about who gets the tracking data, and it was said that the Singapore government would only collect data via the first app if a person becomes infected with COVID-19. There are many privacy concerns about contact tracing devices and how the government will use the data.
For instance, this week, the US government and law enforcement agencies are using contact tracing and big tech to identify rioters.
The war on COVID around the world has ushered in a massive surveillance state with weaponry that governments can deploy at any time: thermal imaging cameras, drones, contact tracing, biometric databases, etc.
No one is safe from government in a post-corona world.