SINGAPORE — Angered at being terminated by his company, a production manager deleted 20 documents stored in the company’s Google Drive.
Tan Wei Chiang, 30, then lied to his supervisor that the documents were still in the Google Drive. After he was investigated by the police, he claimed that the documents had belonged to him.
While the company, 786 SG, managed to recover 16 of the documents, it had to recreate three documents from scratch.
Tan was fined $5,000 on Tuesday (7 December) after pleading guilty to one count under the Computer Misuse Act for unauthorised modification in January this year.
Termination letter with one day's notice triggered response
Tan was employed from 10 August last year under 786 SG, a company producing meat products. He was tasked to plan the production schedule, check on the quality of the raw material and finished goods, and ensuring that customers’ requirements were met.
On 4 January this year, Tan tendered his resignation letter and began serving his 30 days’ notice period, under his employment agreement. However on 12 January, his supervisor, Goh Jing Yi, handed him a termination letter with one day’s notice, as his overall performance and quality of work had been sub-par.
The letter stated that Tan would receive his final pro-rated salary on 31 January. Tan signed the letter of termination.
Goh then instructed Tan to hand over all the intellectual property rights, current on-hand projects, company email login details, and company-related materials in his possession.
Instead of doing so, Tan used his company user account and logged into the firm’s Google Drive. In 10 minutes, he moved 20 documents belonging to his employer into the “bin”, before permanently deleting 16 of them.
The deleted items included audit documents, colour coding for cleaning equipment, attendance records of staff, production work order form, temperature monitoring records, processing fees, documents required for factory audit from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), and workers’ overtime records.
He was not authorised to delete the documents.
Time and effort spent to recover and recreate documents
At about 11pm that day, Goh accessed the Google Drive and realised that many files were missing. She asked Tan via WhatsApp if the production records were still in the drive, and if Tan deleted it.
“The accused replied her that they are still there, and told her to search in the ‘recent files’ for ‘Production Manpower’. Ms Goh then asked the accused whether he deleted the file by accident,” said the prosecution.
When Tan failed to reply, Goh contacted the company’s IT staff to check on Tan’s user logs, and found that he had deleted the documents.
The firm managed to recover 16 out of 20 of the deleted files. The four files that remained lost were overtime records, the SFA requirements document needed for factory audit, a product list meant for workers as a guideline, and an acknowledgement form for customers upon their receipt of goods.
The firm had to spend time and effort in getting IT staff to recover the 16 documents. It also had to contact the SFA to explain that they no longer had the document for audit, and to retrieve the documents and records from the SFA. The other three files that were not recovered had to be recreated from scratch.
As a result, the firm took the $1,500 it owed Tan as compensation.
Prosecution sought $5,000 fine for Tan
Tan admitted in his police statement on 15 June that although he initially claimed he had only deleted documents belonging to him, he had lied.
The prosecution sought a fine of at least $5,000 for Tan, as he had committed the offence in a deliberate manner. It was lucky that the firm was able to recover most of the documents, it added.
However the prosecution was unable to quantify the man hours, or the sum it took for the documents to be recovered or recreated, noted District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam.
Tan’s lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan said it was incumbent on the prosecution to show if the documents that had to be re-created were complex. According to Tan, the information for those documents were readily available and were not difficult to put together. In fact, Tan had been in charge of collating the information in the documents.
Kalidass also pointed out that the company had also deducted $1,500 from Tan as recompense. The defence sought a fine of $2,500, with Kalidass pointing out that his client was young, had just started out on his career, and has a major mark on his record due to his “emotional response”.
The lawyer added that Tan felt he was treated badly by his employer and was angry when he left.
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