ROM limits spouses' data on portal

Logo of the Registry of Marriages at Fort Canning Park.
Logo of the Registry of Marriages at Fort Canning Park.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Redacting of full names and NRIC numbers in response to feedback on possible misuse

The Registry of Marriages (ROM) has quietly started redacting the full names and identity card numbers of spouses from its online records.

This comes after public feedback on the possible misuse of personal details, said the Registrar of Marriage, in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The registrar said the redaction was not due to Personal Data Protection Act regulations, which public agencies do not come under.

When asked about cases of misuse, the agency said there was one instance where a couple's personal information on the registry was possibly misused on social media.

The registrar said the couple managed the situation privately, but declined to say more.

The redaction started last November, and while such feedback on possible misuse was "low", said the registrar, the lawyers ST spoke to said cases of abuse of public records happen "regularly".

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said one of his clients lived in fear after receiving threatening notes and having paint splashed on her door because of her former husband's debts with unlicensed moneylenders.

She later learnt that the loan sharks had traced her address after obtaining personal details from the free online searches with ROM.

"With just a name and NRIC number, people can trace your whereabouts, and innocent people are harassed as a result," said Mr Supramaniam, who has seen at least six such cases in the past year. He added that there are other instances that might not go to court, such as a spiteful lover who uses the data to track down a person's spouse.

Lawyer Ravinderpal Singh said he believes that the online searches are mostly used for the right purposes, but added that cases of abuse will definitely pop up. He cited a case where a client in the United States engaged his services to check on her husband, who was working in Singapore. "She suspected that her husband got married here and, through the search, it turned out to be true," he said.

In May 2010, ROM records were made available online, and Singaporeans and permanent residents were each given two free online searches over a 12-month period. They could pay $35 for any number of additional searches.

It was reported that the intention was to make it easier for individuals to search the history of prospective spouses, so they could make informed decisions before marriage.

Given the growing concerns with privacy, some lawyers said the redaction is a step in the right direction and "better late than never".

Family lawyer Rina Kalpanath Singh said ROM's move is necessary to prevent misuse of data. "The primary use for this portal to search for marriage history is important, but the names and NRIC numbers are not necessary for that purpose."

Supporting the redaction, Ms Gloria James, head lawyer at Gloria James-Civetta, said: "It gives people the due respect and privacy, but does not detract from the good intentions of helping people confirm marriage history."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'ROM limits spouses' data on portal'. Print Edition | Subscribe