[VIEWPOINT]Dry up personal information leaks

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[VIEWPOINT]Dry up personal information leaks

The Ministry of Information and Communication announced recently that it had ome up with measures to protect personal information, including checking out and improving the current personal information protection system and strengthening punishments. Recently, an incident took place in which illegally collected personal information was sold for just one Korean won per person. The company that collected and managed such information saw its level of trust plummet and made many people worry that their own information might have been leaked. Such leaks can lead to human rights violations in various forms, including the illegal use of other people’s names, the illegal issue and use of credit cards, or cyber theft.
One of the problems related to the protection of personal information is that large numbers of public institutions, companies and individuals still don’t understand the limits in the collection and use of personal information.
For example, a person’s resident registration number is not necessary for simple business transactions, but companies have a practice of asking for it anyhow, thinking they might need it later.
Such practices should be stopped. Companies need to keep in mind that if they collected unnecessary information and the information was leaked illegally, they would be held responsible.
A system under which only necessary information is collected and used must be established. The measures provided by the Ministry of Information and Communication include a plan for using substitute means in place of resident registration numbers, and putting limits on collecting and keeping records of resident registration numbers.
Recently various lists of names, such as the membership of political parties and school alumni, were illegally leaked to some election campaigners in time for the local elections on May 31. The damages from such leaks on individuals, companies and local communities are on the rise.
This trend poses many problems. Offering other people’s personal information to a third person or a company without the consent of the people concerned violates the person’s right to decide whether to open his or her personal information.
For publicity purposes, using illegally collected or leaked information to contact individuals under the pretext of conducting an opinion poll is a violation of election law. Such contacts can result in the violation of a person's privacy. Also, if the selection of a candidate is affected by a wrong or distorted opinion poll result, it is unfair to the defeated candidates. The voters also are deprived of the chance to make the right decision.
Using personal information intentionally for illegal purposes must be punished more rigorously. And companies or organizations that were keeping personal information that was leaked later also need to be held responsible for their loose information management and supervision. In addition, an “information protection incentive system” must be established to create a reasonable personal information protection system and culture.
If businesses take the lead in protecting personal information protection, they should be compensated, but if they fail to fulfill the responsibility to protect personal information, they should be reprimanded strictly.
Some companies and organizations hide the fact that their customers' personal information is leaked out because they are worried about a loss of trust or reputation. As a result, they miss the chance to apply a solution system or process.
Cases overseas show that major institutions that collect and use personal information always emphasize that they actively lead the movement to protect personal information.
Also, if a problem takes place, they immediately report it to the government offices concerned, ask for countermeasures and take responsibility. In this way, they take the lead in the development and spread of an even more effective personal information protection system.
In order to get rid of loopholes in the law related to personal information protection, new provisions should be pursued.
Germany has a comparatively stricter personal information protection law than other countries, yet the country is now trying to establish a consistent and integrated personal information protection law.
At the National Assembly, three bills related to personal information protection are being presented. The assembly should carefully examine the bills and integrated them into one law as soon as possible.
The dominating concern is that the scale of misuse of personal information and its side effects can grow bigger in the future.
It is urgent that the government, public organizations, companies, civic organizations, educational institutes and individuals all participate in establishing a systematic personal information protection system with a long-term view.

* The writer is a professor of information systems at Yonsei Graduate School of Information. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Beom-soo
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