Leaking private data

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Leaking private data

I may not be the only one to experience this. Once when I could not drive because I was under the influence of alcohol, I hired a driver to take me home. Since then, text messages advertising the phone numbers of companies that provide substitute drivers often appeared on the screen of my mobile phone. And it was not the phone number of my substitute driver’s company.
After I borrowed money from a bank, advertisements from credit companies appeared on the screen of my mobile phone.
I even received phone calls inviting me to invest in real estate, with come-ons like, “Sir, there is a cheap and investment-worthy piece of land in a provincial area. You’d better buy it soon.”
Considering the high cost of hiring people to make such phone calls, I don’t think they are calling at random.
How on earth, then, did they get my phone number?
It is extremely unpleasant to receive such messages and horrible to think that my phone number has been leaked.
Some of my colleagues at the JoongAng Ilbo told me that they had received text messages inducing them to register as mobile phone electors of the United New Democratic Party, regardless of their political leaning.
It was also revealed recently that the National Health Insurance Corporation and the National Pension Service had peeked, either out of curiosity or at the request of interested parties, at the personal information of policy holders.
They had leaked such information to companies that collect on debts through illegal means.
And these companies even got to peek at medical records of fiancees or lovers of their clients.
News reports on the leaks emphasize the fact that the personal information of presidential candidates was leaked. But I personally think it is more serious that the personal information of ordinary citizens was leaked.
First of all, the personal information of presidential aspirants, as public figures, will be dug out and made public in the course of an election campaign.
Secondly, I do not think there is any reason that the personal information of ordinary citizens should be treated with less respect than those of presidential hopefuls.
The violations committed by employees at the two public corporations are apparently unlawful. There is a law that stipulates the protection of personal information by public institutions, so those who violated the law should be charged and punished accordingly.
However, a more serious problem is posed by leaking personal information by private sector companies, not public corporations.
In many developed countries the people’s privacy is protected by enacting personal information protection laws.
Here, however, draft laws for the protection of privacy have been pending in the National Assembly for the past three years.
What is worse is that these are doomed to be discarded automatically when the 17th assembly closes its last session.
There are actually three draft laws on privacy protection that are pending at the assembly.
Lawmaker Roh Hae-chan of the Democratic Labor Party submitted a draft law first, followed by two others sponsored by Lee Eun-young, a lawmaker from the United New Democratic Party, and Lee Hye-hoon, of the Grand National Party. There are no big differences in the contents of the three draft laws.
They include provisions that regulate the collection of personal information that invades the privacy of individuals; make it mandatory to inform the users of online identification in advance if anyone intends to use an automatic device like an e-mail aggregator and mandate the establishment of agencies that manage and supervise personal information.
The draft law presented by lawmaker Roh has a provision that allows individuals whose private information is violated to file class action lawsuits.
The problem is the lack of will of the lawmakers.
It is absurd that they didn’t even have a chance to discuss the law at the National Assembly’s Government Administration and Home Affairs Committee, despite the fact that enactment of the law is essential for the nation.
Moreover, an expert adviser to the committee attached a negative opinion on the draft law, claiming that if the law was enacted, “There is great worry that it will not only cause difficulties in sharing governmental administrative information, but also weaken the competitiveness of concerned industries such as information and communication equipment manufacturers and information and communication service providers.”
It is hard to avoid criticism that the committee tried to represent the interests of the government and concerned industries, even before the start of a discussion on the draft law.
Thus, it sounds like the committee is against the enactment of the law.
Of course, some bad side effects of the law are anticipated, too.
Japan, which enacted a personal information protection law in April last year can provide a good lesson for us.
The Japanese law prohibits, in principle, the transfer of personal information to a third party without the consent of the person concerned. But excessive interpretation of the law has repeatedly caused a lot of bad side effects.
When an elderly person who lived alone collapsed and was taken to a hospital, the person’s relatives were not even informed of the fact that he was hospitalized, not to mention the hospital ward where he was confined.
Since schools stopped setting up emergency communication networks to protect personal information, they failed to inform all students that schools were closed when a typhoon hit a city.
Even such an absurdity as omitting the name of the winner of a marathon race was committed when the news was announced on the Internet.
Because of such shortcomings, the Japanese bar association in June announced that the law needs revision, saying it is necessary to specify the exceptions to information protection.
But a few unintended side effects of the law should not take precedence over the greater good of protecting the privacy of individuals from unwanted and malicious intrusion.
We should make a better law by learning lessons from the examples of other countries.
I am rather worried that the National Assembly, which is being swept up in the whirlwind of the presidential election, won’t have the nerve to pay attention to legislation like the personal information protection act.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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