SINGAPORE: The Singapore police will “spare no effort” in bringing to justice the man responsible for leaking the personal information of 14,200 HIV-positive people, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 12).
The Health Ministry (MOH) had announced on Jan 28 that US citizen Mikhy Farrera Brochez had gone online to leak the information from Singapore’s HIV Registry.
Brochez was the partner of Ler Teck Siang, a male Singaporean doctor who was the former head of the National Public Health Unit. Ler had access to the HIV Registry as required for his work.
“The police will spare no effort pursuing all avenues to bring Brochez to justice,” Mr Gan said in a ministerial statement addressing the leak, adding that Brochez is believed to be in the US and is currently under police investigation for various offences.
“The police are engaging their American counterparts and are seeking their assistance in the investigations against Brochez.”
Mr Gan noted that Brochez was jailed in 2016 for lying about his HIV status to obtain an employment pass in Singapore.
He added that the American had "left a trail of lies and deceit", and has now "perpetrated a reprehensible act" affecting thousands with HIV.
As for Ler, Mr Gan said the ex-MOH officer had "betrayed the trust of the ministry and the medical profession", noting that his case is now before the courts and that he will be dealt with according to the law.
"I am sorry that the irresponsible actions of one of our officers has resulted in such distress to the affected persons," he said.
"This has been a regrettable incident caused by the irresponsible and deplorable actions of two individuals."
BROCHEZ GAVE LINKS TO LEAKED INFORMATION
Following MOH’s announcement, Mr Gan said a few parties have informed that Brochez had attempted to make contact with them in 2018, and had given them links to confidential information he had uploaded online.
“We have quickly worked with authorities to similarly disable access to the online content. The content that was uploaded is similar to what we had found in January, so no new individuals have been exposed,” Mr Gan said.
“We have also been working with relevant parties to scan the Internet for indications of further sharing of the information.”
While there have been no signs of further disclosure thus far, Mr Gan said MOH will continue to monitor the situation.
“Should we detect any disclosure or online publication of the information, MOH will work with the relevant authorities and parties to take down the content and disable access to the data,” he stated.
Mr Gan reminded everyone that the police will take “stern action”, including prosecution, against anyone who possesses, communicates or uses any of the confidential data which has been disclosed.
“The police will also not tolerate any harassment or intimidation, of any form, towards any person, arising from this leak,” he added. Stern action will be taken against perpetrators.”
UPDATE ON CONTACTING AFFECTED INDIVIDUALS
As for affected individuals, Mr Gan said MOH has completed attempts to contact all of them, but has been unable to reach everyone, noting that many had dated contact information, given that the registry went back to 1985.
Many of the foreigners were also work pass applicants who never worked in Singapore, or who previously worked here but are no longer in Singapore.
READ: ‘I am sorry’: Gan Kim Yong says health ministry providing support to HIV sufferers affected by data leak
Among the affected Singaporeans diagnosed with HIV and still living, MOH has reached 2,400 out of 3,500 people, Mr Gan said, noting that those with concerns can contact its hotline at 6325 9220.
“We seek their understanding that to maintain confidentiality of the information, we have to verify the identity of the caller,” he said. “Officers manning our hotline will then provide information on the incident and direct callers to available avenues of support.”
COUNSELLING ON HAND
Prior to calling patients, Mr Gan said MOH’s medical social workers first identified those likely to require more support, so that designated officers can exercise extra care and provide additional support when calling them.
If callers who request to speak to counsellors, are in distress, or require more advice and support, counsellors are on standby to speak with them, he added.
“Some affected individuals may prefer to discuss their concerns with those they are more familiar with, such as the medical social workers, nurses and doctors who have been supporting their ongoing care and treatment,” Mr Gan said.
“We have arranged with the relevant public hospitals to have medical social workers and doctors on site to attend to them.”
WORRIED ABOUT JOB OR INSURANCE COVERAGE?
Mr Gan acknowledged that affected persons might still have concerns, including worrying about unfair treatment arising from this incident.
On the possibility of getting fired due to the leak, Mr Gan reiterated that Singapore has employment laws to protect employees from wrongful dismissals, including on the grounds of HIV.
“The Life Insurance Association has in turn assured policyholders that insurers that receive information related to this incident will not use such information,” he added. “They will inform the relevant authorities immediately.”
Despite that, Mr Gan acknowledged that some might decline to return to care for fear of future disclosure. “Some felt we should have just informed the affected individuals,” he said. “A few wished they had not been called.”
MEDICAL SOCIAL WORKERS “TARGET OF ANGER AND BLAME”
This distress was shared by the workers who contacted the patients, who felt their anguish and were themselves distressed by the experience, Mr Gan said.
“They had to conduct the calls carefully and gently and be alert to signs of distress so that they could help the patients appropriately,” he said. “At times, our medical social workers became the target of anger and blame.
“Nevertheless, they do their best to support the affected persons.”