Life in Singapore during the pandemic has become about tracking, tracking, tracking. Wherever one goes, one has to scan QR codes that log entry into malls, restaurants, shops and office buildings. For those who have just arrived on the island, it might seem like an uncomfortable intrusion into people’s daily lives and movements. For most Singaporeans, though, this level of tracking – introduced for the purpose of Covid-19 contact-tracing – has become a “new normal” way of life.
Adjustments have had to be made during extraordinary times, which is why most people, including more privacy-conscious civil-society activists, have been generally compliant with Singapore’s contact-tracing systems. But the ease with which people have adapted to this surveillance also reflects how often privacy is forced to take a back seat to other priorities in the city-state.
There’s no right to privacy enshrined in the Singapore Constitution, even though it’s recognised as a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Surveillance and privacy intrusions are not only normalised, they’re sometimes even actively proposed; for instance, a ruling party parliamentarian has been calling for the use of technology to monitor and enforce bans on smoking at the windows and balconies of people’s own homes, as a way of dealing with the harms of second-hand smoke.