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SINGAPORE — A female civil servant and another woman, both 36, were charged on Wednesday (14 April) for allegedly leaking the daily updates of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Singapore before their official release last year.
Zhao Zheng, the deputy lead of the Data Management Unit set up by the Ministry of Health (MOH), and Tang Lin were charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for wrongful communication. Zhao was handed 24 charges, including those under the Computer Misuse Act, while Tang was given 10 charges. The women are Singaporeans.
Tang had allegedly asked Zhao to check on the case status of a patient who had tested positive for COVID-19, with Zhao then allegedly accessing a government COVID-19 database to retrieve confidential records for Tang. According to her charge sheet, Zhao accessed an MOH Excel document titled “master” which contained confidential details of COVID-19 cases - a breach of the Computer Misuse Act.
On 16 April last year, the police received a report from a member of the public that the number of daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Singapore for that day had been leaked online even though the MOH had not publicly released the figures.
Investigations revealed that Zhao, an authorised recipient of classified information on COVID-19, had allegedly shared the number of new COVID-19 cases on 22 occasions in March and April last year with members of a private chat group who were not authorised to receive the classified information.
According to Tang's charges, she sent the number of COVID-19 positive cases - obtained without authorisation - to a WhatsApp chat group consisting of five other members.
Zhao and Tang are due back in court on 5 May.
The members, including Tang, were part of a group on social chat app WeChat.
Some members of the chat group who were not authorised to receive the information, such as Tang, allegedly further disseminated it before the official release.
A total of 64 people who had wrongfully received and/or communicated the information will be issued with stern warnings or written advisories for offences under the OSA.
In response to queries by Yahoo News Singapore, the MOH said that it "takes a very serious view of any wrongful access and communication of information by our staff".
"The alleged offence took place in April 2020. The officer was suspended from work once MOH was informed that the police had started investigations and access to the ministry’s confidential information was also terminated," the ministry said. "Following the incident, MOH has reviewed and tightened our information security protocols and processes."
If convicted of wrongful communication of information under the OSA, each woman may face up to two years' jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.
If convicted of unauthorised access to computer materials under the CMA, Zhao faces a jail term of up to two years, and a fine of up to $5,000.
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