Parliament: Personal details disclosed to correct errors in public complaints without ambiguity, says Janil Puthucheary

Dr Janil said that on occasion, it would be necessary to disclose an individual's identity even when the publicised complaint was anonymous. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - An individual's personal details will be disclosed only if it is relevant to a case and necessary to make the Government's clarifications clear and indisputable.

In stating this on Monday (Feb 3), Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary outlined three conditions under which public agencies would disclose personal data to counter inaccuracies in public complaints or petitions.

First, personal data will be disclosed only if the Government's clarifications can be disputed or would not be sufficiently clear without it.

Second, such data should be specific enough for the relevant individual to challenge the Government's account of the case, if necessary.

Finally, personal data that is irrelevant to the case will not be disclosed.

Dr Janil's reply to Nominated MP Walter Theseira follows the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board releasing in December 2019 the personal details of a woman suffering from lupus.

She had asked for access to savings in her CPF's Medisave and Special Accounts, in an article on her situation that was published on the website of The Online Citizen (TOC).

While TOC used the pseudonym "Ms Soo", the CPF Board, in its response posted on Facebook, gave her full name as Ms Sua Li Li.

Dr Janil said that on occasion, it would be necessary to disclose an individual's identity even when the publicised complaint was anonymous.

"This is to remove any ambiguity in the Government's statement of the facts and settle any doubts over the matter conclusively in the minds of the public," he added.

Dr Theseira, noting the move could discourage people from seeking help, asked if the Government would consider adopting a protocol in which agencies would first try to get the complainant to agree to a statement that clarifies the matter.

"Only if that doesn't happen, then as a last resort, the agency could clarify matters without that person's consent," the NMP said.

Replying, Dr Janil said it was in the nature of such public complaints that "does not lend itself to a protocol".

"It would be inappropriate for us to constrain the agency's response to an inaccurate or outright false public statement," he said, adding that this might lead to further manipulation and ambiguity.

NMP Anthea Ong asked if there are ways for citizens to seek redress for what they deem unfair public disclosure, given that the Government is not bound by the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

Dr Janil said citizens have "many channels" to ask for help or give feedback, including their MPs, service centres and online channels.

"The PDPA notwithstanding... none of this prevents or is meant to discourage a citizen from seeking redress from a complaint," he said.

"Inaccuracies need to be stated in public in a way that is unambiguous and robustly explains the facts to everybody."

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