Add better security, flexibility

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Add better security, flexibility


Lim Jong-in

The validity of our unique resident registration system comes under attack every time a massive leak of personal data rocks the nation. Some argue about the obsolete nature of the system, claiming that it’s a remnant of the cold war, having been born with the purpose of filtering out spies from North Korea and serving to keep tabs on citizens during authoritarian regimes. But some kind of action is needed because home addresses and other information behind the registration numbers of almost all Korean adults are out there.

We must debate the matter by focusing on whether we still need the resident registration number system and leave out the ideological connotations. We must ask how effective the registration system is for administrative operation, safety and security guarantees and the insurance of welfare and civilian rights. To answer these questions, we must separately study the general function of the system and problems related to its serial composition to describe each individual’s history.

From a general perspective, Korea’s resident registration numbers serve as the nuts and bolts for all major administrative functions and public services, such as taxation, welfare, medical, insurance, pensions and elections, and they engineer and ensure the welfare of state governance and democracy. Therefore, doing away with the system is impossible. But retaining the current 13-digit system is risky and unconvincing. The first six digits, which specify a person’s date of birth, and other digits that provide specific details about an individual’s privacy, contain serious downsides.

The problem is that the numbers contain too much information about an individual. They describe a person’s age, gender and location of birth. Second, they are used too widely and randomly. The primary purpose of the residential numbers is to provide public services. The mining and illegal distribution of data has happened because there is not enough oversight of those who have access to it.

The current identification system was developed in the late 1960s with limited technology. In those days, when nationwide network computerization and information technology were scarce, district office bureaucrats had to create numbers as they went along and later added sequential codes to better identify people. There was little awareness of the protection of private information and the lack of regulations fanned reckless and rampant misuse of the numbers. The resident authenticating system should be entirely redesigned according to advanced technology and needs with a long-term view of incorporating post-unification demographic changes. The new system should be designed to prevent further leaks of personal data and strictly protect that which is used for administrative purposes. It also should be flexible enough to allow individual changes when necessary.

The country now has the technology to create, store and control identification numbers that do not clash with one another. People are also more aware of their privacy rights. It is high time to upgrade resident registration system to serve its primary administrative purposes.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 28

*The author is the dean of the Korea University Graduate School of Information Security.

By Lim Jong-in

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