Health Minister says sorry for data-leak of 14,200 HIV-positive individuals

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong apologised for the leaking of confidential information belonging to 14,200 HIV-positive people on Monday after the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced in a press conference that confidential information regarding 14,200 individuals diagnosed with HIV up to January 2013, and 2,400 of their contacts, is in the possession of an unauthorised person and has been illegally disclosed online.

The records were those of 5,400 Singaporeans diagnosed with HIV up to January 2013 and 8,800 foreigners diagnosed with HIV up to December 2011.

The information included their name, identification number, contact details (phone number and address), HIV test results and related medical information. The name, identification number, phone number and address of 2,400 individuals identified through contact tracing up to May 2007 were also included.

MOH notes that while the access to the confidential information has been disabled, it is still in the possession of the unauthorised person, and could still be publicly disclosed in the future. It is currently working with relevant parties to scan the Internet for signs of further disclosure of the information.

It is said that the confidential information is in the illegal possession of one Mikhy K Farrera Brochez, a male US citizen who was residing in Singapore, on an employment pass, between January 2008 and June 2016. Brochez was deported from Singapore after serving his sentence for numerous fraud and drug-related offences.

Brochez is identified as the former partner of Ler Teck Siang, a male Singaporean doctor who had access to the HIV registry.

“I am sorry that one of our former staff who was authorised to have access to confidential information in our HIV registry appears to not have complied with our security guidelines,” said Mr Gan.

“We have been working with police and other entities to disable the access to this data online since Jan 25 and we are continuing to monitor the situation. We take a serious view of this matter.”

Mr Gan added that the case against Ler is before the courts.

“We will not hesitate to take stern action against staff who violate security guidelines, abuse their authority or abuse access to information,” said Gan.

The ministry has been progressively contacting those affected since Saturday, said Mr Gan, adding that a hotline has been set up for them to seek assistance.

“Our counsellors are also available to assist them and to provide additional support if necessary,” said the health minister. “Our priority remains on the patients’ well-being. We will extend whatever assistance and support that we can for them.”

Mr Gan said his ministry will continue to strengthen and review its system to ensure that it is secured.

MOH in its Monday press statement, noted that after Brochez had been deported from Singapore, MOH received information in May 2018 that Brochez still had part of the records he had in 2016. Then the information did not appear to have been disclosed in any public manner and MOH lodged a police report, and contacted the affected individuals to notify them.

On 22 January 2019, MOH was notified that more information from the HIV Registry could still be in the illegal possession of Brochez. On this occasion, he had disclosed the information online.

Brochez is currently under Police investigation for various offences, and the authorities are seeking assistance from their foreign counterparts.