On January 28, the Singapore Health Ministry (MOH) announced that US citizen Mikhy Farrera Brochez, an HIV-positive man who used to live in Singapore, leaked the names and personal information of 14,200 people in Singapore diagnosed with HIV.
According to reports, Brochez was the partner of Ler Teck Siang, a Singaporean doctor who had access to the country's HIV registry as the former head of the National Public Health Unit. Authorities have not revealed the motivation behind Brochez' leaking of the data.
Authorities first uncovered that Brochez had access to Singapore's HIV registry in 2016. However, at the time, the government did not make the news public.
"On one hand, there is the need to be transparent," Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said during a ministerial statement Tuesday. "On the other hand, we need to consider the impact of an announcement on the affected persons with HIV — would it serve their interest, or harm them instead?"
At the time, police conducted a search, and "all relevant material [that Brochez had access to was] seized or deleted," Channel News Asia reported. Brochez was then sentenced to 28 months in jail for offenses in violation of the Misuse of Drugs Act, Penal Code and Infectious Diseases Act.
"Ultimately, it was a judgment call," Gan said. "MOH judged that, on balance, an announcement then would not serve the interests of the affected individuals, when weighed against the inevitable anxiety and distress they would experience."
However, in May 2018, Brochez once again sent a screenshot of records from the HIV registry to Singaporean government authorities. This time around, the 31 affected individuals were alerted of the leak.
"We did not make a public announcement, as there was still no specific evidence that Brochez had more information beyond these 31 records," Gan explained. "Furthermore, as on previous occasions, Brochez had only shared it with government authorities and not to any wider audience.
"A public announcement would create anxiety and distress not just among the 31 persons but also other HIV patients whose names were in the registry," the minister added.
According to Gan, it is possible that Brochez has more data in his possession, which is why the MOH decided to make the case public last month.
— Channel NewsAsia (@ChannelNewsAsia) February 12, 2019
"Should MOH now make known all that Brochez may (or may not) still have in his possession? Do we contact every person whose data may (or may not) be at risk? And in the process inflict more harm on people even though it may ultimately turn out that Brochez in fact does not have the information?" Gan said.
Brochez, who was deported from Singapore in April 2018 to an unspecified country, is currently under police investigation.
"MOH takes a grave view of such matters and will not hesitate to take stern action against staff and other individuals who abuse their authority and access to confidential information, or fail to handle such information in a proper manner," Gall noted.
"We are seeking the assistance of our foreign counterparts in our investigations. It is inappropriate to comment on the case further, as investigations are ongoing… Police will not hesitate to take stern action, including prosecution," Gall continued, also adding that "police will spare no effort pursuing all avenues to bring Brochez to justice."