[VIEWPOINT]Protect the public’s privacy

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[VIEWPOINT]Protect the public’s privacy

Recently, the National Assembly’s annual inspection session revealed that some 20 former judges and prosecutors had received 600 million won ($627,000) to 2.7 billion won a year for their work as attorneys at major law firms. Their names were not made public, but since the locations of the courts and their positions with the prosecutors office before retirement were mentioned, those who are familiar with the bench and bar can guess who they are. Moreover, the public is also talking about the wages of the chief executives at leading private companies, as that information was also made public.
Since I have always been interested in the protection of personal information, I wondered how this data could have been openly discussed. I confirmed that a lawmaker who was investigating law firms’ special treatment of former judges and prosecutors received the data from the National Health Insurance Corporation and analyzed it by comparing the information with a list of attorneys at major law firms.
The lawmaker had initially requested proof of tax payments from the National Tax Service, but when the National Tax Service declined, he asked the health insurance corporation for the income data of people who subscribed at their workplaces.
The problem is whether the National Health Insurance Corporation has the right to provide data that contain private information to a lawmaker for a purpose other than the original intention of collecting them.
Of course, the special treatment for former judges and prosecutors is an improper legal custom that should be rooted out, and it is problematic if those high income earners do not pay due taxes.
However, we need to consider whether such private information has been made public within the boundaries of the law.
In order to fulfill the citizens’ right to know and to bring about judicial reform, faults should be addressed by revealing some necessary information.
However, we should clearly prevent the release of sensitive personal information that is not relevant and does not need to be discussed openly.
The personal information collected by the National Health Insurance Corporation contains more sensitive data, such as their clients’ history of illness and prescription information, which needs to be more carefully protected than other information.
I do not need to further emphasize how important the protection of personal information is in this information era. Now that networks and the Internet have made personal information processed on computers virtually “shared information,” it is easy not to realize the infringement of privacy until you experience actual damage.
Furthermore, there is no apparatus supervising the protection of personal information when data collected for a certain purpose is diverted for other uses.
Powerful government agencies, including the prosecutors’ office and the police, are demanding that other agencies provide countless amounts of personal information when there is little or not enough legal ground. Nevertheless, there is not an agency that can determine whether such a service or access is necessary and legitimate.
The concerned individuals often do not realize that their personal information is being used for purposes other than the original intention.
Only when the information is made public do the individuals realize their privacy has been infringed upon.
Unlike infringement of other physical rights, violations of privacy cannot be reversed. Therefore, a worldwide effort to protect private information before infringement is going on today.
The original purpose of citizens’ right to know and public information is to secure transparency of the state, not to publicly share information of other individuals more than necessary.
If your own private information is valuable, that of others deserve the same protection.
One of the countless bills sleeping in the National Assembly is legislation related to the protection of private information. Therefore, making personal data public and using it needs to be done within the boundaries of the law.
If the existing legal frame is insufficient or faulty, then a related bill needs to be processed soon so that the privacy and personal information of individuals can be protected while the citizens’ right to know and public information can also be fulfilled at the same time.

* The writer is a professor of law at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.

by Kim Il-hwan
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