In a surprising revelation made by the health minister in Parliament today, the victims are totally free to take the Ministry of Health (MOH) to court for the breach of data, Yahoo News Singapore reported.
“Patients can take civil action against the Ministry of Health on breach of data or loss of data,” said Minister Gan Kim Yong, as quoted by Yahoo.
The minister’s statement was in response to Nominated Member of Parliament Irene Quay’s question about the options the victims can take as a result of getting their sensitive information exposed.
“But we encourage them to talk to us, we will discuss with them what are the ways to help them and to support them in whichever way we can.”
Gan had been delivering a Ministerial Statement in Parliament today to provide clarification and updates on one of the country’s biggest breaches of data cooked up by a deported American conman, Mikhy K Farrera Brochez.
Brochez first arrived in the city-state in 2008 and used blood samples from his boyfriend, local doctor Ler Teck Siang, to pass an HIV test and get a work permit. He allegedly obtained the data of HIV-positive people from Ler, who had access to the official HIV registry during his time as the head of MOH’s National Public Health Unit from March 2012 to May 2013.
The man was found guilty of fraud and drug-related offenses and was sentenced to 28 months in prison in March 2017. After the end of his sentence, Brochez was deported from Singapore in April 2018.
Last month, however, Brochez put up information he somehow took from MOH’s HIV registry online. It is believed that he is in possession of data from the HIV registry dating all the way back to 1985.
In fact, he had even tried to make contact with a few parties and gave them links to the confidential information he uploaded online.
“We have quickly worked with authorities to similarly disable access to the online content,” the health minister stated, adding that there have been no signs of further disclosure.
Gan assured that Brochez — believed to be in the United States — is currently under police investigation.
“The police are engaging their American counterparts and are seeking their assistance in the investigations against Brochez,” he said. “The Police will spare no effort pursuing all avenues to bring Brochez to justice.”
Ler, on the other hand, is currently awaiting the results of an appeal against his conviction and 24-month jail sentence for abetting Brochez in cheating and providing false information to the authorities.
Distress and anguish
The minister also made sure to acknowledge the impact the data leak has made on all parties. According to him, affected HIV patients the authorities have gotten in touch with are in total anguish.
“Some may decline to return to care because of the fear of future disclosure. Some felt we should have just informed the affected individuals. A few wished they had not been called at all,” Gan mentioned. “The anxiety and concerns which some individuals felt have also been carried in various online, broadcast and print articles in recent weeks.”
The distress has affected the social workers themselves too.
“Our medical social workers were themselves distressed by the news they had to break and felt the anguish that the patients experienced when they were told. They had to conduct the calls carefully and gently and be alert to signs of distress so that they could help the patients appropriately. At times, our medical social workers became the target of anger and blame. Nevertheless, they do their best to support the affected persons.”
The health minister concluded his speech with an apology for the “irresponsible actions” of one of MOH’s officers and promised that both Brochez and Ler will face justice in court.