The personal details of more than 14,000 people living with HIV have been stolen in Singapore and leaked online. Local authorities revealed on Monday that the 2016 health data breach included the information of 5,400 Singaporeans who were diagnosed with the virus up to January 2013, and 8,800 foreign visitors diagnosed up to December 2011—as well as 1,900 people who had already died, The Straits Times reports. The recently-leaked records include names, identification numbers, phone numbers, addresses, HIV test results, and other medical information.
It’s thought that the man behind the leak is a HIV-positive American whose ex-partner was a senior Singaporean doctor, according to the BBC. Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, 33, lived in Singapore from 2008 and was in a relationship with Ler Teck Siang, the former head of Singapore's National Public Health Unit. Officials claim that Ler falsified medical reports and offered his own blood labelled as Mikhy's in order to allow the American entry to the country, as foreigners with HIV were prohibited from visiting Singapore until 2015. In 2016, Mikhy was convicted and jailed for fraud and drug-related offences, before eventually being deported in 2018.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health have now blamed Ler for the breach, indicating that he had “authority to access information in the HIV Registry as required for his work” and was therefore the likely means by which Mikhy acquired the records. Ler has since been charged under the Official Secrets Act for failing to take proper care of confidential information regarding HIV-positive patients.
"I'm sorry that one of our former staff who was authorised to have access to confidential information in our HIV registry appears to not have complied with our security guidelines," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a news conference on Monday, as reported by Singapore's Today Online. In an official statement, the ministry said: “We are sorry for the anxiety and distress caused by this incident. Our priority is the wellbeing of the affected individuals.
“Since 26 January, we have been progressively contacting the individuals to notify them and render assistance.”
Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Chan Heng Kee also confirmed that a hotline has been set up for those affected and counselling will be offered. But the sensitive information is likely to still be in Mikhy’s hands, and authorities aren’t sure where he’s gone since being deported from Singapore.
"There is a risk of him continuing to publicly disseminate the info," Secretary Chan warned.
Advocacy group Action for Aids (AFA) released a statement on Monday night stressing that the incident could damage the lives of people living with HIV and their loved ones.
"We stand with all whose private information may have been accessed and violated. This is a criminal act that should be condemned and answered in the most severe terms possible." AFA president Roy Chan said. "We understand that this is a trying time for the many who are affected by this breach, and we would like to express our solidarity as a community that have been affected by HIV.”
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