Foot-in-mouth diseaseThe remarks by Hyun Oh-seok, deputy prime minister for the economy, on the massive leaks of customers’ personal information from major credit card companies dumbfound us. On Wednesday, Hyun said that foolish people tend to attribute accidents to others rather than to themselves.
It was the worst possible comment to make at the worst possible time.
First of all, Hyun didn’t take into account the boiling public outrage over the neglect of duty by financial institutions, which allowed the private information to leak in the first place. Customers were denouncing not only those financial companies but also the government, which they believed neglected the proper oversight. Hyun’s remarks deserve the criticism that the government is attempting to avoid responsibility for the crisis. Hyun’s comments triggered attacks even from the ruling Saenuri Party.
Of course, the deputy prime minister may have had no malicious intent and probably only made the comments to highlight the importance of resolving the crisis. But the comments were made the same day as when the Financial Services Commission came forward with hurried measures to settle the situation in the face of mounting public anger. The government vowed to hold financial companies accountable for the leaks by levying punitive penalties on them and dismissing their CEOs as well. The measures didn’t calm the public much.
It was a much bigger problem that Hyun blamed customers for the leaks because, he said, they “agreed on the provision of their personal information” when they opened accounts. For a credit card company to issue a card, a customer must consent to the provision of a maximum of 50 types of sensitive information. And the government approved such a system and leaves it intact. That’s why the FSC pledged to allow the collection of only a minimum amount of personal information from customers.
The deputy prime minister should be careful with sensitive issues. He should have expected such repercussions for such imprudent remarks.
The deputy prime minister must apologize for his inappropriate comments and come up with practical solutions for information protection. Despite the measures announced this week, more than three million customers have cancelled their credit cards or asked for new ones to be issued. Hyun must persuade lawmakers to pass nine information protection-related acts pending in the National Assembly. That’s a job worth doing.