Information of 14,200 HIV sufferers leaked by doctor's US boyfriend
Deported American leaked data of individuals from HIV registry that his doctor boyfriend had access to
As head of the National Public Health Unit (NPHU), he was trusted with the confidential information of patients who had been diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Ler Teck Siang's mishandling of the information however, has led to the leak of the personal data of 16,600 individuals - including those with HIV-positive status.
The information was leaked by Ler's partner Mikhy Farrera Brochez, 33, who illegally obtained the information from the HIV registry which his doctor boyfriend had access to.
Of these, 14,200 were individuals diagnosed with the disease, among whom were 5,400 Singaporeans and 8,800 foreigners including work pass applicants and holders, most of whom are no longer in Singapore.
The data leaked included their identification numbers, names, addresses and HIV status, and included records from between 1985 and Jan 2013.
"We are sorry for the anxiety and distress caused by this incident," the Ministry of Health (MOH) said at a press conference at the College of Medicine Building yesterday.
"Our priority is the well-being of the affected individuals," it added, saying that it has been contacting affected individuals to inform and provide assistance to them since Saturday.
MOH also said that it has worked with relevant parties to disable access to the information leaked online last week.
As of 4pm yesterday, the ministry had successfully contacted more than 1,000 affected individuals. However, Mr Chan Heng Kee, Permanent Secretary, MOH, said the information remains in the hands of Brochez, an American who was deported after he was released from prison in April last year for separate crimes, including drug offences and lying about his own HIV status in order to obtain an Employment Pass.
Brochez is currently under police investigation and Singapore police are seeking assistance from their foreign counterparts, said MOH.
Ler has been charged under the Official Secrets Act for failing to take reasonable care of confidential information regarding HIV-positive patients, and is out on bail.
Ler, who was also charged with the falsification of Brochez' HIV status, was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment. His appeal is scheduled to be heard in March.
The ministry said it was notified by the police last Tuesday that confidential information of HIV patients had been leaked, and made a police report the following day.
Mr Chan said that those affected had understandably expressed distress and anxiety, and stressed that MOH has set up a hotline, and has prepped counsellors to offer support.
The ministry revealed that in May 2016, it was made aware of Brochez' possession of confidential information that appeared to be from the HIV Registry, and upon making a police report, both Ler and Brochez' property was searched by the police, and all relevant material found was seized and secured.
In May 2018, it was found that Brochez still had part of the records that he had in 2016, but the information did not appear to have been disclosed in any public manner.
The ministry said that since 2016, a data security review of NPHU has been conducted and additional safeguards against mishandling of information by staff have been put in place.
These included a two-person approval process to download and decrypt information as well as the disabling of the use of unauthorised portable storage devices on official computers as part of a government-wide policy.
Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong apologised to the public yesterday and said: "We take a serious view of this matter. Our former staff has been charged in court and the case is pending, and we will not hesitate to take stern action against staff who violate security guidelines, abuse their authority or abuse their access to information."