Former PA at Singapore Food Agency jailed for leaking sensitive information about circuit breaker
SINGAPORE: A former public servant has been jailed for six weeks for leaking draft documents detailing COVID-19 "circuit breaker" measures to her husband, who sent the information on to others.
Noorain Jubli, 39, was then the personal assistant to the director-general of the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
She was sentenced on Friday (Jun 3) after pleading guilty to one charge of disclosing confidential information under the SFA Act. Another charge was considered for sentencing.
Her husband Khairul Annuar Zakaria, 40, was fined S$2,000 after pleading guilty to one charge of abetting Noorain's disclosure of confidential information under the SFA Act.
Khairul was then working as a technical officer. The couple have two children, who were aged four and nine at the time.
The leak took place on Apr 3, 2020, about seven hours before the information was officially announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a nationally televised address.
TOOK PHOTOS OF SENSITIVE DOCUMENTS
The court heard that Noorain was bound by an undertaking to safeguard official information when she committed the offences.
Her security clearance gave her access to two folders in the SFA director-general's email account, although she was unable to open secure emails.
At about 9am on Apr 3, 2020, Noorain opened an email sent to the director-general that contained three attachments: A draft joint media statement by the Education Ministry and Social and Family Development Ministry on school closures, a draft Health Ministry press release on circuit breaker measures, and a draft Trade and Industry Ministry public guidance on suspension of workplace activities.
She read the attachments and immediately used her phone to take a photo of two paragraphs in the draft joint MOE-MSF media statement on school closures.
This portion of the draft media statement included references to other efforts to enhance safe distancing measures and further limit social interactions.
Noorain sent the photo to her husband via WhatsApp, despite knowing that she was not supposed to do so, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Joshua Lim, Selene Yap and Lim Shin Hui.
She told Khairul that the information captured in the photo was confidential and told him not to share it with anyone.
She also informed him that she had seen a list of essential services that would continue operating during the circuit breaker, which was in the draft MTI public guidance.
Khairul was made aware of the impending circuit breaker from Noorain, who knew about it from the draft MOH press release.
When Noorain asked him about his work arrangements in light of the circuit breaker, he asked her to send him the list of essential services that would continue operating so he could check if his job was affected.
Noorain took photos of the list and sent eight images to Khairul via WhatsApp despite knowing that the information was embargoed. Khairul took screenshots of the images to retain copies in his phone.
After that, the couple had a short exchange over text where Noorain commented that people would "panic buy" once the measures were announced, and Khairul said this was "as usual".
Noorain and Khairul therefore knew the information they had was sensitive and would cause panic buying, among other reactions, said the prosecutors.
PHOTOS WENT VIRAL ONLINE
After receiving the image of the draft MOE-MSF media statement, Khairul cropped it so it would not show Noorain's laptop screen and her surroundings.
He then sent it on to a WhatsApp chat group named "Geng Shaffri", which had 13 members.
Khairul was aware at the time that the information was confidential and that the media statement was not public, said prosecutors.
The information in the leaked draft media statement subsequently went viral as it continued to be disseminated by others.
At about 1pm, Khairul was looking at social media during his lunch break when he saw an online article containing the image of the draft media statement.
He deleted all the messages in the chat group relating to the image as one of the comments online suggested police would investigate the matter.
He also told the chat group members to delete the image he had sent to them.
Police were alerted to the leak at about 5.45pm on Apr 3, 2020, when a complainant reported that she received an image of the draft joint media statement at about noon that day.
Investigations showed that the complainant received the image after it had been sent through 18 WhatsApp chats, and that she was not acquainted with Khairul.
LEAK HAD THE POTENTIAL TO CAUSE PANIC
The prosecution called for 10 weeks to 12 weeks' jail for Noorain, arguing that public agencies had to redirect valuable resources from the fight against COVID-19 to deal with the leak.
They also cited the widespread economic implications of leaking sensitive information on the school closures and essential services.
The prosecutors said it was essential that sensitive information was released in a manner that prevented panic among members of the public.
They also argued that there was a need to uphold public confidence in public servants as guardians of confidential and sensitive information.
Defence lawyers Abdul Wahab Saul Hamid and Muhammad Hasif asked for not more than two weeks' jail for Noorain, highlighting that she was a first-time offender.
They argued that she was motivated by concerns for her husband's job security and her children's education arrangements.
Senior District Judge Bala Reddy said the leak of the embargoed and sensitive information "had the potential to prejudice the interests of the state in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by causing confusion and panic in the population".
However, he noted that Noorain's offence involved the disclosure of the contents of a single email to one person, her husband, and that it was Khairul who was responsible for the onward transmission to others.
SFA said last year that Noorain was suspended from her duties in April 2020.
Noorain and Khairul could have been jailed for up to a year, fined up to S$2,000 or both for each charge.