US court extends restraining order against Brochez

A US court has extended a temporary restraining order sought by Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) against Mikhy Farrera Brochez, the American at the centre of an HIV database leak in Singapore.

The initial order was granted on Feb 19, two days before he was arrested, and has been extended by 14 days from Feb 22 to March 8.

Brochez is being detained at the request of the United States government, which charged him last week with the unlawful possession of stolen identification documents.

Under the temporary restraining order, he may not post, refer to, discuss, upload or share any confidential, sensitive or private information that he got from the Singapore Government and is holding on to.

Any agent, representative, companion, friend or acquaintance of Brochez who possesses the information he obtained is also banned from disseminating it.

US District Judge Danny C. Reeves said any disclosure of information from the HIV Registry would cause immediate and irreparable injury to the individuals identified through the registry.

His written grounds for granting the extension were set out in court papers filed on Monday and seen by The Straits Times.

There was also good cause for the extension because the Singapore Government "had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of its claims which (Brochez) had not yet answered", said the judge.

There would be little to no harm to Brochez, 34, if he were temporarily restrained from spreading the information. Doing so would, in fact, be in the public interest, the judge added.

The judge also wrote in earlier court documents that America's First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, does not protect the unlawful disclosures of highly confidential patient information.

"Instead, confidential medical records, like the HIV Registry, must be given protection from improper disclosure because the dissemination of this information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," he added.

In the week before his arrest, Brochez had e-mailed the details of 13 HIV-positive individuals scheduled for a health check-up at Changi Prison Complex in March last year to government authorities and multiple media agencies.

Brochez lived in Singapore from 2008 and was jailed in 2017 for fraud and drug-related offences and lying to the Manpower Ministry about his HIV status to get an employment pass. He was released from prison last April and deported.

He was named by MOH last month as the culprit who leaked online the personal information of 14,200 individuals with HIV. He has denied the allegations.

He also sent government authorities and multiple media agencies e-mails warning that he would continue to embarrass the Singapore Government until it ended the HIV Registry and released his Singaporean partner Ler Teck Siang.

Ler, 37, was the head of MOH's National Public Health Unit from March 2012 to May 2013 and had access to the HIV Registry for his work.

Ler was convicted in 2016 of helping Brochez give false information to the authorities, and has also been charged under the Official Secrets Act. He is appealing against the charges.

The confidential information Brochez is barred from disclosing includes the HIV Registry, the prisons list, files related to hospital services and to other infectious diseases, as well as other information, such as e-mails, HIV studies and reports.

A court hearing has been set for today to determine whether he should continue to be remanded until the conclusion of the case involving the unlawful possession of stolen identification documents.

Brochez has also been separately charged with trespassing on his mother's property and is scheduled to appear in court to answer this charge next Monday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'US court extends restraining order against Brochez'. Print Edition | Subscribe