HIV-status data breach in homophobic Singapore

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The HIV-positive status of 14,200 people, as well as their identification numbers and contact details, has been leaked online, authorities in Singapore said. Records leaked include 5,400 Singaporeans diagnosed as HIV-positive before January 2013, and 8,800 foreigners diagnosed before December 2011, CNN reports the Ministry of Health as saying. Patient names, identification numbers, phone numbers, addresses, HIV test results and medical information was included in the information leaked by a former Singaporean resident.

"We are sorry for the anxiety and distress caused by this incident," the MOH said. "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."

Leow Yangfa, a spokesperson for LGBT charity Oogachaga, said in the report that the group was concerned people who have not disclosed their HIV status to employers, family or friends could face repercussions due to the leak. "This reminds us of the insufferable stigma, fear and discrimination that continues to surround people living with HIV in Singapore today," Yangfa said. "Those of us who live without HIV cannot begin to imagine the shock, distress, pain and betrayal they must be going through right now."

The report says sex between men is technically illegal in Singapore, and can be punished by up to two years in prison under a colonial-era statute, though the law is not consistently enforced. According the MOH, the "confidential information is in the illegal possession of one Mikhy K Farrera Brochez," a US citizen who resided in Singapore until May 2018. That's when Brochez was deported, after serving a 28-month prison sentence on "numerous fraud and drug-related offences." One of the fraud charges related to Brochez's own HIV status, which he lied about to the Ministry of Manpower.

The report says, according to Action for Aids, a local charity, HIV-positive foreigners were barred from entering Singapore until 2016. While the law has been relaxed for tourists, HIV-positive foreigners are still barred from receiving employment visas or permanent residence status.

In lying about his HIV positive status, Brochez was aided by his partner, Ler Teck Siang, a former head of the MOH's National Public Health Unit. Ler was convicted of "abetting Brochez to commit cheating, and also of providing false information to the Police and MOH" in September last year and jailed for 24 months. The report says he is currently appealing that sentence.

Through Ler, the MOH said, Brochez had access to the HIV Registry and copied records from it. Around the time of their arrest, raids were carried out on properties relating to the two men and some materials seized. After Brochez was deported from Singapore, the report says the MOH received information that he still had part of the records, and this month he began posting information from the registry online. Authorities in Singapore did not reveal where or how the information is being shared.

Brochez – who could not be reached for comment – is currently under investigation by Singaporean police, "and the authorities are seeking assistance from their foreign counterparts," the MOH said.

According to the report, Yangfa said "it is extremely unfortunate that the circumstances surrounding the leak – involving an American and his Singaporean doctor boyfriend – appear to be rather sensational in nature."

The report says the latest leak comes months after a cyber-attack resulted in the data of 1.5m patients, including government officials and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, being compromised. At the time, officials called the breach of SingHealth – a network of public healthcare providers – the "most serious breach of personal data" in the country's history.

CNN report

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