Data of 14,200 with HIV leaked online: Victims of incident stunned and worried

The revelation that the personal information of 14,200 people with HIV was leaked has stunned those living with the virus here.

Patients like 45-year-old Mr G. Chew told The Straits Times the leak has put both his personal and professional reputation at risk.

"My company is aware that I have HIV, and I am fairly open about it to well-meaning friends who ask me about my illness out of genuine concern," said Mr Chew, an administrative officer, who was informed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) that he was affected by the data leak.

"However, I definitely fear that all this personal information might be publicly available to people at my workplace and beyond to scrutinise. Also, it is the Internet - once it is up there and shared over and over, it is unerasable.

"There is still a great stigma against people who have HIV. Information that I have HIV is definitely not something I want online. It is not like it is an award."

When Jay (not his real name), who is in his 20s, heard news of the leak, his first thought was of his 60-year-old mother and the harassment and judgment she could face from family and friends.

"Having HIV is to me an embarrassing thing and definitely an extremely private matter," Jay told ST, adding that only one close friend knows about his illness. He was diagnosed around 2011, which means he is among the affected individuals, though he has not been contacted by MOH. A total of 5,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents diagnosed with HIV up to January 2013 have been affected by the leak.

 
  • Help available for those affected

  • The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that it has been progressively contacting individuals affected by the HIV Registry leak since Saturday to notify them and provide assistance.

    Among the 5,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents whose data had been leaked, 1,900 have died.

    Mr Chan Heng Kee, Permanent Secretary for Health, said that the ministry is reaching out to the remaining 3,500 individuals.

    An MOH spokesman said that the ministry has attempted to contact all of them, but has not reached all successfully.

    As of 4pm yesterday, more than 1,000 out of the 3,500 individuals had been contacted successfully.

    Members of the public who come across any information related to this incident have been asked to notify MOH immediately and not share it further.

    They can provide the information or raise other concerns to the ministry by calling the hotline on 6325-9220.

    Mr Chan said that there are also counsellors on standby to help those affected deal with any anxiety, distress and concerns they may have.

    Individuals can also call the hotline should they have additional concerns a few days after the initial phone call and conversation.

"I have not told my mother about it, and I don't intend to. I have accepted that Aids is what I have to live with forever, but I am afraid that if this information is made public, my family and close friends will be ostracised and laughed at," Jay added.

MOH revealed that some 1,900 names in the leaked data were of people who had already died.

Ms C. Koh, 31, said she suspects her late brother, who was diagnosed in 2008 and died of HIV-related medical complications in 2016, might be on the list. She said she hopes her family would receive advice from MOH on what to do if their deceased family member's data has indeed been leaked.

"After my brother passed, my father and I thought that this situation could be put to bed. We are very concerned that his data - including our home address - might be spread online by malicious people," Ms Koh said.

"This is opening old wounds for us, and the idea that my late brother's personal data is, even now, not secure, is very disturbing. We want to know why people like him are being targeted."

In a statement last night, Professor Roy Chan, president of the Action for Aids advocacy group, said it was "deeply troubled by this incident that has the potential of damaging the lives of persons living with HIV and their loved ones".

"We stand with all whose private information may have been accessed and violated. This is a criminal act that should be condemned and answered in the most severe terms possible," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2019, with the headline 'Victims of incident stunned and worried'. Print Edition | Subscribe