Online publications should not make use of pseudonyms to hide behind the veil of anonymity, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.
He said this while responding to questions in Parliament on Monday (4 February) from Nominated Member of Parliaments (NMPs) Associate Professor Walter Theseira and Anthea Ong about the disclosure of personal data by government agencies.
Dr Puthucheary reiterated his earlier point that government agencies may disclose personal data in order to counter inaccuracies about the government’s processes or policies contained in publicised complaints or petitions.
“It’s the duty of government agencies to do so in order to maintain the public’s trust to serve citizens effectively,” he asserted.
Referencing the recent case of a woman who had voiced her grievances with the Central Provident Fund (CPF) after being unable to withdraw her savings to support her medical needs under the pseudonym Ms Soo, Dr Puthucheary said that the public clarification issued by the CPF Board, Housing Development Board (HDB), Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Health (MOH), and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) was to “provide key facts that had been omitted from and to correct misleading statements” which was published in a TOC article on 17 December.
Dr Puthucheary explained that the clarification was necessary to ensure that the public was not misinformed and that public trust in government is maintained. He added that this also allowed the woman to challenge the government’s account of the case if need be.
He defended the public disclosure, describing it as the “appropriate response” in this case.
He then said, “Continued use of the pseudonym Ms Soo could have done more harm than good if the public had associated other individuals with the case resulting in more confusion.”
He added later, “Regardless of the action taken, online publications should not make use of pseudonyms in order to hide behind the veil of anonymity so that they can publish unverified facts or misleading statements.”
“This is not in the best interest of sound public debate,” he asserted.
When questioned by Ms Ong on how public interest is defined in this case, Dr Puthucheary simply said, “There was no public interest served by protecting a falsehood about government processes and policies when it comes to social welfare and medical care.”
“The public interest served here is for the public to be well informed about what is actually happening in our government’s processes and policies.”
Ms Ong also asked why a specific piece of information—the fact that the woman in the case is or was suicidal—was necessary to be disclosed by the government.
Dr Puthucheary countered that the information was already mentioned in the original TOC article which published the woman’s story under a pseudonym, and so was not a new piece of information disclosed by the government.