Photo by Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock.com

The recent leak of personal data of individuals living with HIV in Singapore has come as a real shock. The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that the data of 14,200 individuals diagnosed with HIV up to January 2013 and 2,400 of their contacts is in the possession of an unauthorised person who has yet to be apprehended. MOH has revealed that about 1,900 names in the leaked data were of people who had already died.

The Police are currently investigating the matter. The suspect is former Singapore resident, US citizen Mikhy K Farrera Brochez who is currently residing outside of the island.

Speaking to The Straits Times (ST), a 45-year old Mr G. Chew who is among those affected by the leak, said that the incident has put both his personal and professional reputation at risk.

He said, “My company is of course aware that I have HIV, and I am fairly open about it to well-meaning friends who ask me about my illness out of genuine concern,” said Mr Chew, an administrative officer who had been informed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) that he was affected by the data leak.”

Even so, Mr Chew added that he definitely fears that all his personal information could be publicly available to people at his workplace and outside to scrutinise. Once something is on the internet, it can be shared over and over and is virtually inerasable.

Another person whose data was leaked told ST that his first thought was of his 60-year old mother and the harassment and judgment she might face from family and friends.

The 20-year old said, “Having HIV is to me an embarrassing thing and definitely an extremely private matter,” adding that only one close friend had known about his illness.

He added, “I have not told my mother about it, and I don’t intend to. I have accepted that AIDS is what I have to live with forever, but I am afraid that if this information is made public, that my family and close friends will be ostracised and laughed at.”

The data also include personal information of those who have died. Ms C. Koh told ST that she thinks her late brother’s information might be among those leaked.

He was diagnosed in 2008 and died in 2016 of HIV-related medical complications. Ms Koh said she’s hoping to receive some advice from MOH on what to do with their deceased family member’s data has indeed been leaked.

“After my brother passed, my father and I thought that this situation could be put to bed. We are very concerned that his data – including our home address – might be spread online by malicious people,” Ms Koh said to ST.

“This is opening old wounds for us, and the idea that my late brother’s personal data is, even now, not secure, is very disturbing. We want to know why people like him are being targeted.”

In a statement, the President of Action for AIDS Singapore said that that they are deeply troubled by this incident that has the potential of damaging the lives of persons living with HIV and their loved ones.

AFA President Prof Roy Chan said, “We stand with all whose private information may have been accessed and violated. This is a criminal act that should be condemned and answered in the most severe terms possible.”

He also urged the public to refrain from speculation and gossip, and to not share any confidential and private information they might come across.

“We understand that this is a trying time for the many who are affected by this breach, and we would like to express our solidarity as a community that have been affected by HIV,” he added.

In their statement, MOH said they were notified as of 22 January 2019 that more information from the HIV Registry could still be in the illegal possession of Brochez  who is currently under Police investigation for various offences.

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