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Asia Pacific Dashboard Digest | Notes from the Asia-Pacific region, 8 May 2020 Related reading: Notes from the Asia-Pacific region, 5 June 2020

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Dear, privacy pros.

We are now four weeks into the Singapore version of the COVID-19 lockdown (known locally as “circuit breaker” measures), and things are starting to get hairy.

The first challenge for me as a parent is that home-based learning for my children stopped recently as schools entered a term break. Nevertheless, despite the security concerns alluded to in my previous introduction, we still have no realistic option but to continue using Zoom and other video conferencing applications for tuition and enrichment classes, as well as to help the boys maintain some semblance of social contact with friends and family during this period of time.

As a business owner, the second challenge I face is that I am unable to ascertain whether my employees are being productive as they work from home. As repugnant as it may sound from a privacy standpoint, I appreciate the concerns raised by companies who have implemented “tattlerware” or other employee surveillance tools to monitor the productivity of their remote workers. These concerns are genuine, pertinent and bear careful consideration as we move into the “new normal” post-pandemic.

Finally, on a personal front, the third challenge for me has been trying to stay sane, even as we stay safe. It does not help that, in Singapore, we are watching (enviously) as countries around us gradually relax movement restriction controls and even open some air transport links. One of the hottest debates in this area has been how the use of contact tracing apps may help in making that a reality for us sooner.

In Singapore, the government has made it clear that the ability to quickly and efficiently perform contact tracing is a vital element in getting the country to open again. Unfortunately, despite being one of the first in the world to roll out such an app, only around 20% of the local population has downloaded the TraceTogether app, far short of the 75% required for it to be effective. Currently, only 4% of the contacts of the 1.1 million people who have downloaded the app can be traced. On the other hand, if the government’s goal of having three-quarters of the population download the app is met, the trace proportion increases significantly to more than 50%.

As a privacy professional, I would agree that appropriate measures should be put in place when designing the app and data flows to ensure that principles of data minimization, appropriate use and limit retention, etcetera, are adhered to. However, as a pragmatic individual who is keen for life to get back to normal (whatever that looks like after COVID-19), I cannot help but feel that an appropriate balance has to be struck when weighing any perceived shortfall against the potential economic, health and social consequences of not having such apps in place.

If you are interested in this topic, the IAPP has a summary of the countries that have rolled out contact tracing apps here and some of the recent commentaries on these apps here.

I want to end this letter on a bright note, so I should point out there is a silver lining in this giant gray cloud that has engulfed our lives. If my Facebook feed is to be believed, the pandemic seems to have made better cooks and bakers out of all of us.

And on that note, I have to prepare dinner for my family.

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