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SafeTraceEntryTogether: COVID-19 and tech

I started the week in court for Gobi Avedian’s case — which ended well, hooray! — and ended the week also in court for Syed Suhail’s case. Yesterday, the Court of Appeal granted leave for a judicial review. Three cheers for M Ravi!

Soon we all must TraceTogether

The government launched the TraceTogether app earlier this year, but there hasn’t been enough take-up, as highlighted in previous issues of this newsletter. Now it looks like we’re all going to have to either download the app or pick up a token, because it’s going to be mandatory at all popular venues (like restaurants, shopping malls and schools). The multi-ministry task force has also said that getting at least 70% of the population on TraceTogether is a condition for entering Phase 3 (i.e. further loosening COVID restrictions).

How it’s going to work is that they’re going to replace SafeEntry (the current QR codes that we scan with our camera apps, QR code readers, or the SingPass app) with TraceTogether SafeEntry QR codes. So instead of scanning SafeEntry like we do now, we’re going to only be able to scan for SafeEntry via the TraceTogether app, or to scan a QR code on the TraceTogether tokens. Essentially, we’re all going to be forced to adhere to TraceTogether on top of SafeEntry.

The government has taken pains to reassure Singaporeans that TraceTogether respects  people’s privacy, although the low take-up from the beginning appears to suggest that people still aren’t entirely convinced or comfortable about the whole thing. Now, it’s going to be imposed by fiat, which I guess won’t be surprising to anyone who has observed how things are done in Singapore.

If you haven’t already, I’d like to urge everyone to read this piece on about what we should consider when thinking about data collection and technology in Singapore. It’s not just about the tech, but also about the surrounding ecosystem — and this is something that really hasn’t got the amount of attention that it deserves. If you have access, it might be worth reading this academic article too, which argues that the TraceTogether roll-out is about normalising the acceptance of surveillance as a fact of daily life in Singapore, and to get more citizens to buy into the “Smart Nation” push.

Migrant workers, too, have been surveilled and tracked in various ways, including contact-tracing devices that are specific to their living and working conditions.

AGC gets mad about people talking about racial bias

Last week, people online took issue with Chan Jia Xing, one of the seven individuals originally charged with murder in relation to a high-profile fight at Orchard Towers, getting only a one-year conditional warning for his involvement. This was held in contrast with the fact that Preetipls and Subhas Nair got two-year conditional warnings for their parody rap video calling out the racism of the brownface ad campaign, with some opining that this is yet another case of double standards and inconsistency in the system.

How very dare you, says the AGC. They’ve said that any allegation of double standards on the grounds of race are “categorically false and baseless”. But they didn’t just stop there; they’ve also said that the police has been directed to investigate those who made such allegations.

The AGC’s comments mentioned that Chan had apparently tried to stop the attack on the deceased, and that he’d cooperated with the authorities, which contributed to the decision to just give him a conditional warning. We don’t really have a full picture of everything, so it’s hard to comment on the proportionality of Chan’s punishment; for me, the main point is still that it was utterly ridiculous to have given Preeti and Subhas conditional warnings. I don’t want people to be punished as much as activists who are speaking out on socio-political issues; I want the authorities to stop punishing people who are simply exercising their civil and political rights.

Turns out tertiary institutions are still rubbish at dealing with sexual assault

Jeremy Fernando has been sacked as a lecturer at Tembusu College after allegations of sexual assault. The whole episode was criticised by students who pointed to a lack of clarity and accountability. Now that they’re under pressure, the university has filed a police report against Fernando, even though the two students who reported him had said that they did not want to file reports. AWARE has issued a statement on the matter, highlighting that it’s not ideal to file police reports when the survivors themselves aren’t willing, pointing to legislation imposing a duty to report and the difficulties it might throw up, and asking questions about the university’s process. In a media briefing, Tommy Koh, rector of Tembusu College, promised that NUS will be more open and transparent moving forward. But how are they going to do this, and will NUS students get more than these sorts of verbal assurances?

If only there had been a previous high-profile issue about sexual harassment and sexual assault in tertiary institutions, culminating in a heated town hall session with students, to have pushed NUS to think about this way earlier… 🤔 Oh, wait. What has NUS learnt from the Monica Baey incident and all the discussions that came after?

Parti gets the go-ahead

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has given Parti Liyani the go-ahead for an investigation into her complaint of misconduct against the prosecutors who handled her case.

Bookmarking: The Unlocking Podcast

I haven’t started listening to this year, but The Unlocking Podcast’s first season is focusing on Singapore’s Old Left, which sounds great. Check it out here!

That’s it for this week! As usual, please help get the word out about this newsletter…

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