Singapore – On February 3, Monday, Senior Minister of State for Communications & Information Janil Puthucheary received backlash from the online community for stating that government agencies sometimes had to disclose personal information of a complainant to “maintain public trust and serve all citizens effectively.” The following day, the minister added that online publishers should refrain from using pseudonyms to ensure that the information being published is valid and accurate.
Mr Puthucheary, during a Parliament session on Tuesday, responded to a question from Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong about the decision-making process of a Government agency regarding the protection or disclosure of an individual’s identity.
Ms Ong went back to the case of Ms Sua Li Li, the woman appealing to withdraw her CPF funds and whose name was revealed by the CPF Board based on “public interest.”
The NMP questioned what was the “process that led to the decision made for personal data disclosure without consent, among other concerns.
A recap from a related query made by Assoc Prof Walter Theseira was provided by the minister.
To recap, Government agencies may disclose personal data to counter inaccuracies about the Government’s processes or policies contained in publicised complaints or petitions. It is the duty of Government agencies to do so in order to maintain the public’s trust and to serve citizens effectively. If citizens are misled about the Government’s processes or policies, they may make decisions that are detrimental to themselves. It is therefore fully in the public interest to dispel such doubts and clarify the facts.
The minister also mentioned that the decision was “discussed at length” by numerous agencies such as the CPF Board, Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Ministry of Education (MOE).
Data such as Ms Sua’s full name, interactions with various agencies and the support that she and her daughter were receiving from multiple agencies had to be included to “ensure the public is not misinformed and public’s trust in the Government is maintained.”
“Continued use of the pseudonym, “Ms Soo”, could have done more harm than good if the public had associated other individuals with the case, resulting in more confusion,” added Mr Puthucheary.
Should it be deemed necessary, disclosing Ms Sua’s personal information also allowed her to challenge the Government’s account of the case.
“Regardless of the action taken, online publishers should not make use of pseudonyms in order to hide behind the veil of anonymity so that they can publish unverified facts or misleading statements. This is not in the best interest of sound public debate,” said the minister.
Ms Ong expounded on the query by asking how “public interest” was defined in this case.
“There is no public interest served by protecting a falsehood about Government processes and policies when it comes to social welfare and medical care,” replied the minister.
“If she (Ms Sua) can persuade me that that is so, I would be very surprised; and I do not think she can persuade many people that there is some benefit to be gained about perpetuating disinformation and falsehoods about medical care, welfare benefits, social services, processes.”
Mr Puthucheary added that “Public interest served here is for the public to be well informed about what is actually happening in our Government’s processes and policies.”
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) is one of the several methods which the Government applies to ensure facts are disclosed appropriately.
“The government’s response depends on a sensitive reading of the situation, calibrated to what is necessary and appropriate in the circumstances,” said the minister. In connection to Ms Sua’s case, a public clarification was essential to “set the record straight.”
Read Ms Ong’s complete post below:
asked the Prime Minister with regard to CPFB’s clarification on the case of Ms Sua Li Li (a) why was it not possible for…
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