Singapore finally deletes its COVID-era contact tracing data

Except for the data used for a controversial murder investigation. That stays. Forever

Singapore's government announced on Monday it had deleted almost all the personal data collected from its COVID tracking systems – TraceTogether (TT) and SafeEntry (SE) – as of February 1. Almost.

"Both the TT and SE (Business) App have been removed from the official mobile app stores, and the backend digital infrastructure supporting the TT and SE systems have been dismantled. The TT and SE websites have also been shut down," revealed the country's Smart Nation Group.

The org added that users' registration details – which were previously kept for quick set-up and registration in case of a new variant or outbreak – were also deleted.

The TraceTogether mobile app and SafeEntry venue login service were required in Singapore from May 2020 until late April 2022. The app operated by exchanging Bluetooth signals between smartphones to identify other app users in close proximity, indicating they were at a distance where the virus could more easily be spread.

Authorities could then pinpoint individuals who had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and place them under isolation orders if necessary.

SafeEntry served as a check-in system to log details of people visiting public venues like malls and offices, to record movements so authorities could monitor for outbreaks. The app and check-in system were integrated, so that users tapped their smartphones to a device placed at the entrance of the venue to register their presence.

The duo were deactivated in February of 2023 and closed down on January 10, 2024.

The standdown of Singapore's COVID tracking program lagged other countries, including Australia, Japan and even China, leaving many to wonder if and when the program would ever end.

However, according to Smart Nation, a plan for leaving the tracking program behind was always in the works as the country's COVID-19 Temporary Measures Act required it. That date was set for Jan 5, 2024.

The Act also required the deletion of any personal contact tracing data used for the purpose of contact tracing from the systems.

Smart Nation revealed that a small amount of data gathered by the app and SafeEntry will not be deleted, as it pertains to a May 2020 murder case. That data will be retained indefinitely. The org reasoned that the retention is necessary in case of challenges made to the conviction or sentence after the case concludes.

The murder case became a hot button issue as residents were initially promised data would be "used solely for contact tracing of persons possibly exposed to COVID-19." Concerns emerged that use of the data off label for criminal investigations would erode trust among the public and lower usage – and thus efficacy – of the COVID prevention programs.

Singapore's COVID tracking app managed to track COVID more than those of other countries, thanks to the government's strict mandate that citizens use it. The island nation's mostly compliant population is fairly indifferent to surveillance, while other restrictions on activities during the pandemic did not generate widespread public criticism.

Still, the tech did outperform many other apps – so much that Singapore open-sourced TraceTogether and an advisor to the World Health Organization recommended the idea for wider adoption.

But hopefully those days have now passed, never to return. At least that's what the Singapore government is anticipating.

"The digital contact tracing systems, TraceTogether (TT) and SafeEntry (SE), will no longer be required as Singapore transitions towards managing COVID-19 like other endemic diseases," explained the Smart Nation Group.

The Reg has asked the Smart Nation Group and closely associated org Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) to detail the data destruction techniques employed on the pandemic data. We've previously seen consultancies literally reduce hard drives to dust to demonstrate the thoroughness of their data deletion efforts and create confidence that information is unavailable to data recovery experts.

We'll update this story if we receive a substantial reply. ®

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