Citizens call out on Dr Janil Puthucheary’s comment on when government can disclose personal data

Clarifications can be made without unveiling private data

Earlier this week, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, Janil Puthucheary said that personal data should be disclosed by government agencies to correct inaccuracies and provide an accurate picture of complaints to maintain public trust and to serve all citizens effectively.

Dr Puthucheary explained that government process and policies that are meant to protect individual liberty could sometimes be misinterpreted by parties and this could mislead people into making ill-informed decisions.

Taking note that disclosure of an individual’s personal data by government agencies are “limited in scope’, the Minister outlined three principles to safeguard personal data from unnecessary disclosure.

The first being personal data would only be disclosed if the agency’s clarification is disputed or is unclear without the disclosure of such data.

The second principle is that the personal data has to be specific enough to provide a full picture of the issue at hand to enable the complainant challenge the government’s account of the case based on the facts provided.

Thirdly, personal data that is irrelevant to the case should not be revealed.

However, the Minister added a caveat that the disclosure of identity of a person involved could be deemed necessary even if the publicized complaint itself has been anonymised.

The Minister reiterates that this is done to remove any ambiguity in the government’s statement of the facts and settle any doubts over the matter conclusively.

Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Associate Professor Walter Theseira raised his concern that such publication of personal would discourage people from reaching out for help.

Also, the NMP asked whether the government would consider implementing a protocol which would require agencies, first to seek the approval of the complainant in regards to the publication of a statement of clarification by the agency.

Dr Puthucheary responded by asserting that should a false complaint arise which could impact the government’s operations in a way which is misrepresented, there should be a disclosure of information to set records straight and to ensure that Singapore and Singaporeans are well informed.

This issue comes to light following the disclosure of Ms Soo’s private data by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board last year.

Ms Soo has come forward by providing a more accurate narrative of events to the CPF Facebook post urging them not to mislead readers with inaccuracies of her story.

Online users express mixed reactions to the Minister’s proposal. They took to Facebook platforms of CNA, Today and to The Online Citizen to voice their concerns in regards to the intention of disclosing data.

Facebook user Min Zheng argued that clarifications can be made without unveiling private data as long as it does not pertain to matters of national security. This netizen believes that the government should exercise caution when revealing personal data. The disclosure of Ms Sua’s financial and medical data by the CPF is deemed unnecessary and defensive move by the government.

Other users also share the same view as Min Zheng.

Netizen Jeff Tam says that public trust can be maintained by not disclosing personal information. There are others who feel the same.

Francis Ang is emphatically against disclosure of private data. He writes, “When you start disclosing privacy data for whatever reason, you lose trust. Period”.

Netizen Desmond Khoo says, whatever is private, remains private. By being the government, it does not give anyone the right to expose private details.

Meanwhile, Diu Lei offers a sardonic remark on the whole episode. He says, armed with POFMA the government can do what they want. But the people cannot do the same. Similarly, netizens believe that data transparency should be a two way practice by both parties.

He comments “Bravo, with POFMA and what not the government can do, but you can’t do the same”.

Charlene Wong states that it is in public interest for complete transparency in government affairs. She believes that the proposal to disclose personal information and POFMA are tools aimed at punishing citizens who profess opposing views.

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February 2020
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