Parliament: MPs ask about support for those affected by HIV data leak and recourse available

Following Health Minister Gan Kim Yong's ministerial statement yesterday on the leak of confidential data from the HIV Registry, several MPs raised questions and voiced concerns over how it happened.

Some also gave suggestions on how to prevent a similar incident or to better support the affected individuals. Here are some of the questions they asked and the replies from Mr Gan as well as Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

CONCERNS ABOUT BLACKMAIL ATTEMPTS

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) asked if American Mikhy Farrera Brochez, who posted confidential HIV information online, had attempted to blackmail or make demands of people on the HIV Registry.

Mr Gan said he could not go into details as the case is under police investigation. What he did say was: "Brochez is not very consistent in his communication with all the relevant parties. So, it is very difficult to fathom what is his motive in sending these letters or demands.

"So far, we have not received any complaints or feedback on blackmail or threats from patients or from any of our contacts."

CONCERNS ABOUT PROSECUTION OF RECIPIENTS OF HIV DATA

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked if a person contacted by Brochez, who does not report this and "any leakage of confidential information", is liable for prosecution.

 
 
 
 

Mr Shanmugam replied that while "technically there could potentially be some offences under the Official Secrets Act", action is unlikely to be taken against anyone who informs or sends the information received to the Government.

SUPPORT FOR AFFECTED INDIVIDUALS WITH HIV

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) asked what the risk of potential suicide was among those affected, and the support the MOH is giving them to "help them tide over this very difficult period".

Mr Gan said feedback he received from medical social workers indicated that there were some people who were suicidal when told that their details had gone public.

He said the social workers "had to manage the case very delicately" by sensing the distress the patients were facing and making a judgment "how much to tell them, how much to stress them further or to refer them to help", he said.

When they came across someone with "clear intention to do something drastic", they might refer them to an expert from the Institute of Mental Health.

But more often, he said, they would refer them to someone the person is familiar with, such as someone in their support group.

RECOURSE FOR THOSE WHO WERE AFFECTED

Nominated Member of Parliament Irene Quay asked: "What will be the recourse for victims, that the victims can seek, as a result of this exposure of sensitive information?"

Mr Gan said patients can take civil action against MOH on breach of data or loss of data.

But he added that MOH would "encourage them to talk to us and we will discuss with them what are the ways to help them and to support them in whichever way we can".

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'MPs ask about support for those affected and recourse available'. Print Edition | Subscribe