The patients affected by the HIV data leak are free to take legal action against the Health Ministry, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Tuesday (12 February).
“Patients can take civil action against the Ministry of Health on breach of data or loss of data. But we encourage them to talk to us, we will discuss with them what are the ways to help them and to support them in whichever way we can,” Gan told the House.
He was responding to a question from Nominated Member of Parliament Irene Quay, following Senior Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary’s confirmation that MOH does not fall under the auspices of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).
PDPA governs the collection, use and dissemination of personal data by private organisations.
Quay had asked, “With PDPA exemption for MOH, what will be the recourse for victims, that the victims can take as a result of exposure of this sensitive information…for better accountability?”
Gan was delivering a Ministerial Statement on the data breach, which involved Ler Teck Siang, the former head of the MOH’s National Public Health Unit, and his partner, American fraudster Mikhy Farrera Brochez.
The confidential data of 14,200 HIV-positive individuals and 2,400 others who were identified through contact tracing had been leaked online by Brochez, said the MOH late last month. The leak happened after Brochez was deported from Singapore over fraud and drug-related offences in April last year. Brochez had served a 28-month jail term for the offences.
Ler, who resigned from MOH in January 2014, was sentenced to 24 months’ jail in September last year for abetting Brochez in cheating and providing false information to the police and MOH. He is currently awaiting the results of an appeal against his conviction and sentence.
In June 2016, Ler was also charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for “failing to retain possession of a thumb drive” containing data from the HIV registry. His OSA charge has been stood down pending his appeal.
Last month, lawyers told Yahoo News Singapore that the affected individuals can sue MOH, but proving that they have suffered significant damage would be difficult.