MOH suspends officer for alleged leak of coronavirus figure, reviews processes

The number of daily confirmed Covid-19 cases in Singapore for April 16 had been leaked on Instagram before MOH officially released the figure.
The number of daily confirmed Covid-19 cases in Singapore for April 16 had been leaked on Instagram before MOH officially released the figure.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM MOH.GOV.SG

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday that it has suspended one of its officers after she allegedly leaked the number of new daily coronavirus cases in Singapore and retrieved a Covid-19 patient's records without authorisation.

The 35-year-old civil servant is a Singaporean woman and was arrested under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and Computer Misuse Act, the police said on Thursday.

MOH added that it is now reviewing its processes to ensure that the necessary information security protocols are in place.

"The officer has been suspended from work while police investigations are ongoing, and no longer has access to the ministry's confidential information," MOH said in its statement.

"Confidential information relating to Covid-19 cases is placed in a secured server that is only accessible by a restricted group of officers who require the information for their work. The officer had authorised access to the information as required for her work, but had allegedly used the access for other unauthorised purposes."

The police said on Thursday they had received a report on the incident on April 16 at 7.43pm from a member of the public that the number of daily confirmed Covid-19 cases in Singapore for that day had been leaked on an Instagram post.

This was even though MOH had not officially released the figure.

Preliminary investigations found that the MOH officer had shared the number of new Covid-19 cases for April 16 - which was 728 - with members of an online private WeChat group who were not authorised to receive the classified information.

The members then disseminated the information before MOH's announcement in its daily update.

 
 
 

Further investigations found the woman had shared the daily case figures with the WeChat group on several other occasions.

The MOH officer had also accessed a government Covid-19 database without authorisation to retrieve confidential records of a patient who had tested positive for the virus, and gave the information to her friend.

The police are investigating the case. Those found guilty of wrongful communication of informa-tion under the OSA can be fined up to $2,000 and jailed for up to two years.

The police also warned that unauthorised recipients should not further circulate the confidential information received as they may be similarly liable under the OSA.

If found guilty of unauthorised access to computer materials under the Computer Misuse Act, the woman can be fined up to $5,000 and jailed for up to two years.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2020, with the headline 'MOH suspends officer for alleged leak of virus figure, reviews processes'. Subscribe