Sunday, 29 December 2019

Woman's data in CPF case lawfully disclosed: Govt

Government said it released personal data of sick woman in CPF case in the public interest
Necessary to provide public with facts in CPF withdrawal request case: Smart nation office
By Lester Wong, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2019

The Government said it wanted to provide the public with correct and relevant facts in the case of a woman who had sought to access her Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings. That was why it decided to disclose her personal data.

This came after it received queries from the media regarding its policy on disclosing personal data in cases of public interest.

In a statement yesterday, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) said that the law permits such disclosure - including the identity of the individual - in the public interest.

The case came into the spotlight following a Dec 17 report from sociopolitical website The Online Citizen which said that the CPF Board had rejected the single mother's request to draw funds from her CPF account.

The CPF Board responded to this through a Facebook post on Dec 19, detailing the woman's case and circumstances, and appeared to identify her as a Ms Sua.

This, in turn, led to questions on whether the woman's personal data should have been disclosed.

In its statement, the SNDGO said: "The Online Citizen first published an article on Ms Sua on 17 Dec 2019 which omitted key facts and contained misleading statements.

"The relevant public agencies jointly issued a clarification to provide the full picture to the public. Some specific personal information was disclosed in order to convey verifiable facts and to enable the individual to challenge the Government's account of the case, if need be."

It added: "Public agencies have a duty to preserve the public trust reposed in them and to ensure that citizens are not misled."

The CPF Board's post on Dec 19 flagged details that included Ms Sua's admission to the National University Hospital in 2011 for her lupus condition, her recent visits to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, as well as her application for financial aid.

It also said that the woman could reapply to access her CPF savings on medical grounds, once her doctors had certified that she met the medical criteria.

The SNDGO likened the approach to that followed by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which permits companies to disclose relevant information about an individual in a public forum to counter false or misleading allegations from that individual. "This gives the companies an opportunity to clear the air for themselves, and convey the facts of the case to the public."

It noted that such lawful disclosures should not be conflated with unauthorised breaches of citizens' data, which all public agencies, including the CPF Board, are committed to guard against.

"Public agencies abide by the data protection regulations under the Public Sector (Governance) Act and in the Government Instruction Manuals," said the SNDGO.

"These are no less stringent than the requirements of the Personal Data Protection Act which apply to the private sector."

*  Parliament: Personal details disclosed to correct errors in public complaints without ambiguity, says Janil Puthucheary
Janil Puthucheary outlines conditions when personal data is disclosed
Information must be relevant to case, needed to counter inaccuracies in public complaints
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2020

An individual's personal details will be disclosed only if they are relevant to a case and are necessary to make the Government's clarifications clear and indisputable.

In stating this yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary outlined three conditions under which public agencies would disclose personal data to counter inaccuracies in public complaints or petitions.

First, personal data will be disclosed only if the Government's clarifications can be disputed or would not be sufficiently clear without it.

Second, such data should be specific enough for the relevant individual to challenge the Government's account of the case, if necessary.

Finally, personal data that is irrelevant to the case will not be disclosed.

Dr Janil's reply to Nominated MP Walter Theseira follows the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board's release last December of the personal details of a woman suffering from lupus.

She had asked for access to savings in her CPF's Medisave and Special Accounts, in an article on her situation that was published on The Online Citizen (TOC) website.

While TOC used the pseudonym "Ms Soo", the CPF Board, in its response posted on Facebook, gave her full name as Ms Sua Li Li.

Dr Janil said that on occasion, it would be necessary to disclose an individual's identity, even when the publicised complaint is anonymous.

"This is to remove any ambiguity in the Government's statement of the facts and settle any doubts over the matter conclusively in the minds of the public," he added.

Dr Theseira, noting that the move could discourage people from seeking help, asked if the Government would consider adopting a protocol in which agencies would first try to get the complainant to agree to a statement that clarifies the matter.

"Only if that doesn't happen, then as a last resort, the agency could clarify matters without that person's consent," the NMP said.

Replying, Dr Janil said it was in the nature of such public complaints that they do not "lend itself to a protocol".

"It would be inappropriate for us to constrain the agency's response to an inaccurate or outright false public statement," he said, adding that this might lead to further manipulation and ambiguity.

NMP Anthea Ong asked if there are ways for citizens to seek redress for what they deem unfair public disclosure, given that the Government is not bound by the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

Dr Janil said citizens have many channels to ask for help or give feedback, including their MPs, service centres and online channels.

"The PDPA notwithstanding... none of this prevents or is meant to discourage a citizen from seeking redress from a complaint," he said.

"Inaccuracies need to be stated in the public in a way that is unambiguous and robustly explains the facts to everybody."

CPF Clarifies - Ms Sua Li Li - medical expenses fully covered by MediFund; daughter‘s education supported by government bursaries -19 Dec 2019

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