Are registration numbers risky?

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Are registration numbers risky?

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The government is looking into replacing the current resident registration number system in the wake of the country’s worst personal data leakage incident.

Shin Je-yoon, chairman of the Financial Services Commission, said yesterday the government will examine whether Koreans’ registration numbers are overused and whether that puts people at risk.

“Currently, all transactions require the registration numbers as the key identification information, increasing risks when the numbers are exposed,” Shin said.

The FSC is expected to crack down on the current practices of demanding people’s registration numbers when they sign up for almost anything, including membership cards from department stores.

There have been calls for Korea to overhaul its current registration number system due to the new risks involved in personal information leaks.

President Park Geun-hye ordered her cabinet to explore alternatives to the current system from other countries on Monday.

“Once someone’s registration number is exposed, there are risks of secondary and tertiary damage,” Park said in a meeting.

The current 13-digit system, amended in 1975, has been considered effective. But with the leaks becoming more of an issue, some analysts say the system may contain too much information.

“The registration number is considered a high-class, confidential piece of information that serves as a standard to collect and classify other pieces of information,” said a police officer who investigates illegal distribution of personal information. “It is ironic that the numbers given by the government are being used as a core part of the illegal information-collecting businesses.”

Commercial banks and credit card companies rely heavily on the registration numbers of customers.

Credit information, including defaults on loans, is collected based on the number system.

From August, if a revision of the Personal Information Protection Act takes effect, ordinary companies will be prohibited from collecting customers’ resident registration numbers. The Financial Services Commission plans to give exemptions to financial companies for a while until an alternative system is available.

“For now, there needs to be exemptions because there is no alternative identification method,” said Choi Yong-ho, director of microfinancing at the FSC.

Experts say the current system contains too much information. The first six numbers indicate a person’s birth date. The remaining seven indicate gender and hometown.

The numbers are included on ID cards and driver’s licenses.

The system is different in the United States, according to experts.

The United States uses social security numbers for basic identification purposes. But the numbers do not signify any important personal information. The first three number used to indicate where a citizen applied for the card, but they have been random since 2011.

Americans do not generally carry around their social security cards.

“The Korean system needs to be changed in a way that the number doesn’t include any meaningful information,” said Lim Jong-in, dean of the Graduate School of Information Security at Korea University.

Kim Min-ho, a Sungkyunkwan University School of Law professor, proposed separating the existing resident registration numbers and their issuance numbers. He suggested concealing the registration number and displaying the issuance number on the card instead.

Separation of the issuance number from the registration number was reviewed by the government in 2010.

Since all ID cards will be replaced in the future due to the start of the new street address system, the registration number system could be overhauled at the same time.

BY KIM WON-BAE, SONG SU-HYUN [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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