On 27 December (Friday), the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) under the Prime Minister’s Office, released a statement saying that it disclosed the personal details of a sick and depressed woman who attempted suicide multiple times to obtain her Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings for her family because it wanted to provide the public with correct and relevant facts in the case.
It also added that disclosing such information is permitted under the law.
Two weeks ago, TOC reported on the case of Ms Soo (not her real name), a single parent who is suffering from Systemic Lupus Erythemathosus (SLE), or better known as lupus since 2011. Due to her health issues, she has been out of job since June 2016.
Ms Soo had sought President Halimah’s help to release her CPF Funds from Medisave and Special Accounts so that it can be used to help her financially. This is because she had exhausted all her savings as she was unemployed for the last three years. When asked for her CPF monies, CPF Board requested for a medical certificate from her doctor to say that she is permanently unfit to work but her doctor only gave her a temporary notice for 6 months.
Following TOC’s report on 17 Dec, the government publicly named Ms Soo’s real name on CPF Board’s Facebook page in a joint statement of various ministries on 19 Dec and disclosed additional personal details of her family. It also included Ms Soo’s admission to the National University Hospital in 2011 for her lupus condition, her recent visits to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, as well as her application for financial aid.
Disclosing personal details is allowed by the law
Following this, SNDGO said in its statement that public agencies disclosed personal details to give public with the correct and relevant facts. “Some specific personal information was disclosed in order to convey verifiable facts and to enable the individual to challenge the Government’s account of the case, if need be.”
It also stated that the “law permits such disclosure”, and that “public agencies have a duty to preserve the public trust reposed in them and to ensure that citizens are not misled.”
Additionally, SNDGO also noted that under the Personal Data Protection Commission, companies are allowed to reveal certain relevant information about a person in a public forum in order to counter false or misleading allegations from that individual. “This gives the companies an opportunity to clear the air for themselves, and convey the fact of the case to the public.”
It went on to say that such lawful disclosure of information should not be conflated with unauthorised breaches of citizens’ data, which all public agencies including the CPF Board are committed to guard against.
“Public agencies abide by the data protection regulations under the Public Sector (Governance) Act and in the Government Instruction Manuals,” said the SNDGO spokesman.
“These are no less stringent than the requirements of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) which apply to the private sector.”
Upon reading this, online users slammed the government’s move of revealing the woman’s personal details online. Commenting in the Facebook pages of Smart Nation Singapore and CPF Board, many of them said that the government’s act of naming and shaming the sick woman publicly is a very “shameful” and “below the belt” move.
One user Rafizah AR said that just using initials would do, and requested the government to have a heart” and “think of how it would affect the person and his/her family members”.
Separately, Rey Ong said that although the government has the legal right to name the woman in order to defend its position, but it failed to realise that its action could lead to bullying. “But did anyone realise that the act of naming her may result in cyber or real life bullying or harassment of this person by some people who disagree with her? The fact this this disclosure is legal does not mean it is in good taste or good judgement or ethical.” he wrote.
Others questioned the relevance of disclosing the woman’s information to the case. They said that they “could have simply stated your case without naming the person” or use a “pseudonym”. One user even suggested that it’s better for CPF Board to approach the woman personally and resolve the issue.
Ammar Lulla said that it’s clear to him that the they want “to name and shame them for ‘daring’ to challenge a government body on its decision-making”.
Andrew Fann opined that the “government should apologise to the public and reassure us that our personal details are not at risk of being revealed to the public if we decide to go to social media to voice up out displeasure on the government agencies”.
On the other hand, CL Cheong pointed out that “it is an abuse of authority without due consideration of consequence which may arise to the concern person”. He suggested that CPF Board could have gave the woman a different name, just like what TOC did, instead of disclosing her real name. “You never think twice to cause harm than protection and you ended up telling half truths. People are not stupid don’t know how to connect it. You have failed your judiciary duty in this case to protect her personal data”.