Most Singaporeans not confident government is doing enough on data protection: poll

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
(Getty Images file photo)

Most Singaporeans are not confident that the Singapore government is doing enough to protect confidential information stored electronically, according to an online survey commissioned by Yahoo News Singapore.

A total of 56 per cent lacked confidence in the government’s handling of such data, with 42 per cent of feeling “not very confident” and 14 per cent saying they were “not confident at all”, the survey of 908 Singaporeans conducted by research consultancy Blackbox Research showed.

Only 7 per cent felt “very confident”, while 37 per cent felt “quite confident”.

The survey, conducted from 14 to 26 February, came less than a month after the Ministry of Health (MOH) made known to the public about the online leak of confidential data belonging to 14,200 HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)-positive individuals and 2,400 others who were identified through contact tracing.

The leaked data from the HIV registry included the affected individuals’ names, identification numbers, contact details, HIV test results, and related medical information.

An American conman, Mikhy K Farrera Brochez, was identified as the culprit behind the leak. 

The 34-year-old’s Singaporean partner, Ler Teck Siang, who headed the MOH’s National Public Health Unit (NPHU) from March 2012 to May 2013, was authorised to access information in the HIV registry. 

The MOH had made a police report in 2016 after getting to know that Brochez possessed information that appeared to have come from the same registry.

Separately, Ler was later accused of failing to take reasonable care of the information in the HIV registry, by failing to retain possession of a thumb drive on which he had saved the data.

While 74 per cent of survey respondents felt “very” or “quite” concerned about the HIV data leak, 24 per cent was “not very” or “not concerned at all” with 3 per cent having no opinion on the matter.

93 per cent also “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that the government should notify the public of any data breach involving personal information, immediately after the incident has been verified.

The findings also found that 52 per cent felt that the MOH had handled the data leak incident “quite” or “very” badly, with 19 per cent selecting “very badly” and 33 per cent selecting “quite badly”.

(INFOGRAPHIC: Blackbox)

Conversely, 4 per cent felt that the ministry handled it “very well”, while 30 per cent felt that it handled the incident “quite well”. 14 per cent said they are not familiar with the issue.

The survey respondents were evenly split between men and women, with those aged 50 years and above being the biggest group at 38 per cent.

78 per cent were Chinese, 14 per cent were Malay, 7 per cent were Indian, while the remaining 12 per cent were of other ethnic origins.

The January announcement of the compromised HIV registry came less than a year after the country’s biggest ever data breach. In July last year, health records of 1.5 million Singaporeans, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, were stolen in a suspected state-sponsored attack.

Last Friday, the confidential data of more than 800,000 blood donors in Singapore was also leaked online by a Health Sciences Authority vendor.

Related Singapore stories:

Personal data of over 800,000 blood donors put online by vendor: HSA

Singapore’s HIV data leak: A recap of what we know so far

COMMENT: HIV data leak – What is your excuse now, MOH?

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