Police probe data breach involving alleged coronavirus patients

Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo

THE Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) is conducting an online investigation and validation of a social media post containing sensitive information about seven patients in Cebu who have allegedly tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Captain Jeck Robin Gammad, ACG spokesperson, said they have already tapped the Central Visayas Anti-Cybercrime Unit (ACU) for the conduct of investigation against the person who posted the information.

“Nakipag-coordinate na tayo sa regional ACU-7 sa Central Visayas patungkol dito sa kumakalat nga na balita doon sa pito na personalities na diumano ay confirmed Covid patients, at sa ngayon minomonitor nila ‘yung... nagco-conduct sila ng online investigation and validation as to the truthfulness of the information and also kung sino ang prrimary source nung info na yun,” he said.

“Titignan natin kasi dapat DOH lang ang may hawak nito or health administrator so dun tayo magsisimula kung paano nakalabas ang information,” he added. DOH is the Department of Health.

Gammad said such information should only be used by authorized persons such as the DOH for the purpose of contact tracing.

Gammad said the individual who posted the information may be held liable for violation of the Data Privacy Act of 2012, particularly Section 31 on malicious disclosure and Section 32 on unauthorized disclosure of information.

The penalties for violation of the said law is imprisonment ranging from one year and six months to five years and a fine of not less than P500,000 but not more than P1 million.

Gammad said it is also considered a violation to the cybercrime law as the manner of spreading the information was made online.

Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro earlier said only pertinent information needed to facilitate contact tracing should be collected and disclosed to the public. These include travel history and frequented locations.

Unnecessary disclosure of personal information may stunt government efforts to identify and test individuals with confirmed cases effectively and may have serious consequences, he said.

“Revealing the identities (of the patients) to the public or providing information that could accurately identify people who are under investigation or have contracted the disease is counter-productive and could do more harm than good,” Liboro said.

“If people believe that their identities will be released to the public when they come out for testing, they may be discouraged to come out—making it more difficult for the DOH and the rest of the inter-agency task force to identify more Covid-19 cases,” he added.

Earlier, the ACG filed charges four individuals - one from Cabuyao City in Laguna and three from Lapu-lapu City in Cebu - for spreading false information on social media.

Gammad said they are still monitoring at least seven people who were also involved in sharing fake news in the National Capital Region (NCR) while the regional offices were continuously conducting cyber patrolling to collar these persons involved in such criminal activities.

He said following the directive of PNP Chief Archie Gamboa, they have created a task group in each of its unit which will focus on monitoring and combating false information being spread online.

“This task group ang mangunguna sa pagsugpo at pagmomonitor ng mga fake news or false information patungkol sa Covid-19. Sila po ang magmo-monitor, magmamanman, magco-conduct ng entrapment operations and nagsasampa ng kaukulang complaint sa mga nahuhuli natin at napapatunayan na nagkakalat ng fake news,” he said.

Gammad appealed to the public to stop the spread of fake information because it is not helping in this time of crisis.

“Muli’t muli po kami ay nananawagan sa ating mga kababayan na tayo po ay maging responsible sa paggamit ng social media. Sharing is caring po pero yun pong ating mga shineshare na hindi po verified at walang katotohanan or fake news na ating shineshare ay hindi po caring,” he said.

“Sa mga patuloy pa rin na nagpapalaganap ng mga walang katotohanang balita sinusiguro po natin na ang PNP katuwang ang ACG at iba pang law enforcement unit ng ating kapulisan para mahuli at masampahan ng kaukulang kaso yung mga mapagsamantala,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)