Protecting interests of affected persons MOH’s primary concern
Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong has defended the Health Ministry’s actions on the disclosure of the recent HIV data leak and highlighted the importance of managing the situation to reduce the possibility of further exposure and protect the interests of those affected.
Mr Gan, who delivered a Ministerial Statement in Parliament, also rejected any allegation that MOH had sought to cover up the incident. He apologised that the irresponsible actions of Ler Teck Siang, a former MOH officer, have caused distress to the affected persons.
Detailing the sequence of events, Mr Gan shared that MOH first had evidence that US citizen Mikhy Farrera Brochez may have access to confidential HIV related data in 2016, when he provided the police and government authorities with 75 names from the HIV registry. Brochez was then Ler’s partner.
This revelation came after Brochez was arrested for repeatedly refusing to comply with MOH’s order to take a blood test, Mr Gan said. Police later raided Brochez’s and Ler’s premises simultaneously and seized items such as computers, electronic storage devices and files.
Nevertheless, Mr Gan said the ministry has always recognised that there was a risk that Brochez could have hidden more information and the January 2019 leak verified that.
While there have been no signs of further disclosure, 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 said.
Mr Gan acknowledged that affected persons might still have concerns about their employment or insurance coverage. On this, he assured the House that Singapore has employment laws to protect employees from wrongful dismissals, including on the grounds of HIV.
Mr Gan also reminded the public that the police will take stern action against anyone who possesses, communicates or uses any of the confidential data arising from this leak.
“The police are engaging their American counterparts and are seeking their assistance in the investigations against Brochez. The police will spare no effort pursuing all avenues to bring Brochez to justice,” Mr Gan said.
Update to legal framework to tackle foreign interference
In response to questions in Parliament on laws in dealing with foreign interference in domestic elections and politics, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Mr Edwin Tong responded that the laws have to be updated so that Singapore does not fall prey to such tactics.
Relating to the testimonies given during the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Mr Tong also highlighted the use of articles and social media to influence Singapore’s population.
“In the physical world, foreign actors may interfere in our domestic politics through the use of proxies, by funding or donating to politically-involved individuals and organisations, or by taking on key leadership roles in the organisations,” he emphasised.
The legislation to counter hostile information campaign, added Mr Tong, should have two objectives:
- Allow the Government to swiftly and effectively act to disrupt and counter false, misleading and inauthentic information and narratives spread by foreign actors
- Government must be able to pre-emptively expose clandestine foreign interference campaigns
Reiterating the need for Singaporeans to be sensitised to the threat of foreign influence, Mr Tong said, “We are our own first line of defence. We must learn to be sceptical of and be able to discern falsehoods or half-truths and detect foreign actors, and their attempts to interfere in our politics.”
Image: Screengrab from CNA