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TraceTogether doesn't work, so... wearable trackers? 😱

Issue 109

We had a little We, The Citizens x Animal Crossing get-together last week! In keeping with ordinary gatherings, everyone forgot to take a group photo until someone had already left. Thank you to those who came for exchanging presents and cataloguing items!

Cannot TraceTogether, so let’s tag everyone

It’s no secret by now that the TraceTogether app—which attracted so much attention as a tech solution when it first launched—hasn’t worked as it was expected to. Firstly, the damn thing doesn’t work on iOS: you need to have it running in the foreground, which has led to complaints about battery drain, on top of it just plain not matching user behaviour. Despite that, it’s been made compulsory for migrant workers in dormitories, and other work permit and S Pass holders who work in the construction, marine, and process sectors. It seems to also have been made a requirement for staff and students at the National University of Singapore.

The government isn’t giving up on tech for contact tracing, though. Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister in charge of Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative, said in Parliament that they’re looking wearable devices. If it works out, they might distribute it to everyone in Singapore.

Distributing it to everyone is one thing, but will it be mandatory for everyone to wear? What about privacy concerns? What information will be collected? How long will we be expected to wear it? What will the government do with the information, and how long will they keep it? What mechanisms for accountability will there be? Why is there a need for this when we have SafeEntry everywhere, which no one can opt out of? These aren’t known yet, but the idea of being required to put on a wearable device that could track the people I meet up with makes me pretty uncomfortable.

Coming out of COVID-19

The “circuit breaker” has officially ended, and we’re now in Phase 1 of the exit from the partial lockdown. For many of us, Phase 1 looks… exactly like the circuit breaker. But the government is now looking to the gradual reopening of businesses, lifting of travel restrictions, and what the economy might look like in a post-pandemic world.

To that end, they’ve put together the Emerging Stronger Taskforce to look at systemic shifts that need to happen, and make recommendations about what needs to be “refreshed” or “reimagined”.

So who’s on this Emerging Stronger Taskforce? CEOs and bigwigs from the banking industry, Big Oil, tourism, real estate… Workers’ Party MP Sylvia Lim has commented on its lack of diversity, particularly since the taskforce is overwhelmingly dominated by men, and mostly Chinese men at that. Furthermore, there’s no representation from small and medium enterprises, not to mention from workers or civil society.

A Singapore-China “fast lane” for essential business and official travel will begin on Monday. There’ll be hoops to jump through, like applying for the necessary approval and getting tested for COVID-19. Once allowed in, though, they won’t have to do the 14-day quarantine that everyone else has to do. (They also won’t be allowed to take public transport.) This news isn’t exactly being welcomed by some long-term residents of Singapore who are still stuck overseas (and won’t be able to avail themselves of this fast lane), but I’ll take a proper look at this in a special issue soon.

Migrant spouses in Singapore

AWARE has published their report on migrant spouses of Singaporeans, focusing on non-citizen women married to citizen men. 70% of migrant spouses in Singapore are women, and unless they have their own work visas, they’re often dependent on their local spouse for the right to reside in Singapore, which creates a power imbalance and leaves them even more vulnerable if there’s domestic abuse or family violence. In the event of marriages ending, migrant spouses might not be able to remain in Singapore, even if they are the primary caregivers of Singaporean children—their kids aren’t able to sponsor Long-Term Visit Passes until they’re 21. AWARE has recommended that migrant spouses be allowed to renew their LTVPs independent of their citizen spouses.

COVID-19 is also making it even more difficult, because these migrant spouses aren’t eligible for the support schemes that the government has put out, even though their ability to earn an income affects their Singaporean family members, and they have fewer employment opportunities.

Still got some more…

After an online petition and other forms of public feedback, the government has relooked its plan to distribute fun packs to everyone. Instead, it’s going to make funpacks—called Singapore Together Packs—for about 80% of Singaporean and PR households, so it’ll still be available for people who want it.

Marina Bay Sands is being probed by both the US Department of Justice and Singapore’s Casino Regulatory Authority: the former is looking into whether they’ve breached anti-money laundering regulations, while the latter is looking into their money transfer policies. A casino being investigated for money laundering… anyone surprised?

A stupid cat-and-mouse game is under way between the POFMA Office (on behalf of the Singapore government) and Alex Tan, operator of dodgy AF anti-PAP websites and Facebook pages. States Times Review was previously made a “declared online location”, after which Tan apparently went and sent up National Times Singapore, which hadn’t showed up on my radar at all until it, too, was made a “declared online location”. Both STR and NTS’ Facebook pages are now blocked for Singapore users… and then Tan’s going to set up a new page, and then…

Millennial activism in Singapore

CAPE and Singapore Policy Journal’s fourth edition of We The Citizens (no relation to this newsletter!) is on millennial activism during the pandemic. It’s on 8 June from 8pm, and has a lovely panel line-up. Remember to sign up!

Here’s a Nice Thing

You can stream Ayer Hitam: A Black History of Singapore on Vimeo until 14 June.

In solidarity with struggles around the world

I absolutely urge you to read the latest issue of the Race Tuition Centre newsletter about what we can do while we look at Black Lives Matter and the ongoing protests against police brutality in the United States. (You can also download free ebooks about policing and violence here.) Police brutality has also been an issue in Hong Kong as its political crisis continues, but in Singapore, the term “ACAB” (which stands for “All Cops Are Bastards”) hasn’t caught on, and is in fact more likely to trigger Singaporeans to leap to the defence of the Singapore Police Force.

I’m not planning to get into an argument here about whether all Singaporean cops are bastards, but I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we don’t have independent and robust oversight mechanisms for the police in Singapore, which means that there is no independent oversight body to which any complaints about police behaviour can be reported.

In 2013, bus drivers who had taken part in a strike for fairer pay and living conditions alleged that they had been threatened and assaulted during interrogation. When the documentary filmmaker Lynn Lee released clips from her interviews with the men to highlight this, she herself became a subject of investigation by the police, and later given a warning for contempt of court. The authorities said that the allegations were investigated by the Internal Affairs Office and found to be “baseless”. The Internal Affairs Office is a department within the Singapore Police Force.

Finally, I’d like to share this Twitter thread (you can click on the tweet below to see the whole thread) about the history of colonial policing, and how that matters not just in relation to what we see in the US and Hong Kong, but also in Singapore: