Medical Records of 14,200 HIV patients in Singapore have been leaked. Last week, the Public Health System of Singapore reported a breach in their security system in which the information of thousands of Singaporeans and foreigners alike was illegally disclosed online. This includes names, identification numbers, contact details, general medical information, and HIV test results. Singaporean authorities have assured the public that access to this information has been disabled, however, the data is still in the hands of the perpetrator. Investigations by Singaporean authorities and the Health Ministry have connected the crime to American national Mikhy K Farrera Brochez, a psychologist and former lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic. Brochez lived in Singapore from 2008 to 2017 with his partner Ler Teck Siang, a Singaporean doctor and former head of the Health Ministry’s National Public Health Unit. Siang’s position permitted him access to the country’s HIV registry, which he abused multiple times to protect his partner. As foreigners who have HIV are not allowed to work in Singapore, Siang used his own blood sample in place of Brochez’s, who was HIV positive. In May 2016, Brochez and Siang were both convicted on numerous charges including the falsification of blood samples. A year later, Brochez served a prison sentence of 28 months in Singapore before being deported in April of 2018 (Reuters).
Singaporean Health Minister Gan Kim Yong spoke on the incident and the involvement of Siang in a released statement by the New York Times saying, “I am sorry that our former staff who was authorized to have access to this confidential information in our HIV registry appears to not have complied with our security guidelines.” Since Monday, Brochez has not been available to comment or release a statement regarding the incident.
This is the second time in the past year that Singapore’s Health Ministry has suffered a breach in security. In July of 2018, a cyber attack compromised data from 1.5 million people, including the country’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. The New York Times explains that although officials never released the identity of the culprit, it was stated that the attack was specifically done to obtain the “personal and medication data of the prime minister.”
HIV status in Singapore is extremely sensitive due to the existing colonial-era law that strictly bans gay sex. According to the New York Times, roughly 450 new cases of HIV are reported each year. As half of these cases are transferred through same-sex intercourse the leaking of such information could put many people at risk. The current situation has undoubtedly caused rightful anxiety for thousands of people, and the fact remains that this information is possibly still available online. Fortunately, Singaporean officials have responded quickly and appropriately through investigative action and communicating with the public regarding the issue. It is vital for this recently developed country that its measures of cybersecurity be improved drastically, especially if it wants to maintain its image as a “healthcare hub” for East Asia (Reuters).
In an age of ever-progressing technology where information is easily shared and obtained, Siang and Brochez have proven to be an example of just how freely information can be accessed by the wrong people and consequently abused. While investigations into Brochez’s involvement continue, justice for the people compromised regarding their HIV status remains to be seen.