Parliament: Using pseudonym for woman in CPF case could have done more harm than good if others get linked to it, says Janil

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said personal details of a woman in a case involving the Central Provident Fund Board were released to provide the public with a full picture. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Personal details of the woman in a case involving the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board were released to provide the public with a full picture, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 4).

He was referring to Ms Sua Li Li, who had asked for access to savings in her CPF's Medisave and Special Accounts in an article by The Online Citizen (TOC) in December last year.

The article referred to her by the pseudonym "Ms Soo", while the clarification on the CPF Board's Facebook page gave her name in full and made public the help given to her by several government agencies.

"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," added Dr Janil.

In his reply to Nominated MP Anthea Ong, he added that the use of a pseudonym was not meaningful, given that the woman had already forwarded correspondence containing her full name to public agencies and media outlets.

TOC had also earlier published a letter containing her full name, date of birth, age and gender, before removing the name later, he said.

He added: "Online publishers 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."

The issue of the Government disclosing personal details was brought up the day before in Parliament by Nominated MP Walter Theseira, who asked about the considerations behind making such disclosures.

Dr Janil said then that personal data would be disclosed only if the Government's clarifications could otherwise be disputed or would not be clear enough, and personal data not relevant to the case would not be disclosed.

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

On Tuesday, Ms Ong also asked about how public interest was defined in the case of Ms Sua, as it had been cited as a reason for the disclosure of her personal details.

She also asked if the Government would consider making its instruction manuals publicly accessible as recommended by the Public Sector Data Security Review Committee.

In its report published in November last year, the committee called on the Government to improve transparency by publishing its policies and standards relating to personal data protection.

Dr Janil said 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".

But he replied that he had nothing to add on the issue of the Government's instruction manuals beyond what had already been debated in the House in the past.

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