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[Editorial] Gov’t Negligence in Privacy Protection

Posted September. 22, 2008 08:48,   


Despite the spreading of personal information leaks by the government as well as public and financial institutions, hardly anyone is taking responsibility or drawing up countermeasures. The government and public corporations seem the most ignorant about the importance of protecting personal information. It is time for a wake-up call.

The number of financial transaction records that financial institutions provided to police, prosecutors and public institutions last year was 357,751, according to a Financial Services Commission report submitted to the National Assembly. They gave away 83.2 percent, or 297,696 transaction records, without owner consent. Investigative agencies can trace or request financial transaction records without owner consent when probing insider or unfair trading. In all other cases, however, written consent is a must prior to obtaining financial transaction information. A court warrant is also required for account tracking. Yet, the number of personal information leaks is increasing each year. Neither information providers nor receivers seem to give a second thought on breaching laws on real-name financial transactions and privacy. Some experts warn that ignoring this issue will hamper cash flow and negatively impact the economy.

Police officers, who have the authority to access investigation reports, have turned out to be the culprits of personal information leaks. It is like having wolves guard sheep. According to a National Police Agency report submitted to the National Assembly, 44 officers have been punished for leaking criminal and car registration records since 2004. Nevertheless, 21 simply received a reprimand. This shows that even investigative authorities are not fully aware of the seriousness of personal information leakage.

The personal information of 720,000 people was leaked by the National Health Insurance Corp. in April. The corporation was also found to have illegally looked through health information of its 12,000 subscribers, including President Lee Myung-bak, former President Roh Moo-hyun and many other politicians and celebrities. What’s more, the personal information of 1,800 subscribers was also leaked, illustrating the prevalence of privacy invasion. Employees used personal information to satisfy their curiosity, for instance, to find out who had an abortion or who their neighbors are.

This year alone, the personal data of 30 million people has been leaked if that by private companies is counted. In other words, the majority of the people are exposed to invasion of privacy. The government must come up with strong legal and systematic measures to avoid a catastrophe in this area.