Rights to know vs. human rights

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Rights to know vs. human rights

I would like to ask a question to the 1 million civil servants and 300,000 workers of state-run enterprises. What will they do if their names, affiliations and salaries are made public through the Internet? It may sound absurd, but it was already done in the United States.

On the homepage of the Texas Tribune, a media organization based in Texas, the names and salaries of 273,027 civil servants were made public. The information is also searchable.

The media outlet also makes public the names and convicted crimes of inmates in Texas prisons, as well as the performance of public schools and their students’ admissions.

After six years of establishment, the Texas Tribune was seen as a pioneer of data journalism. On April 16, I had a chance to meet with John Jordan, editorial administrator, at its newsroom in Austin, Texas. Journalists from seven Korean media outlets were there to sponsor the Korea Press Foundation.

Asked if there were any problems associated with the information disclosure, Jordan said the government had to respond to the media’s demand for public disclosure within 10 days. Asked if there were any complaints from civil servants, he said there were a few, but the media told them that they must understand because it is information in the public sector, where tax money is placed.

He even said an inmate’s family thanked them for allowing him to locate a long-lost brother.

It reminded me of a case in Korea. In 2010, then the Representative Cho Jun-hyuk made public the names of the teachers who had joined the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association on his homepage. Although a local court granted the injunction of the union that information disclosure should be stopped, Cho went ahead and made them public. The Supreme Court, last year, ruled that Cho must provide 340 million won to the teachers of the union in compensation for infringing upon privacy and the right to organize a union.

U.S. law apparently put more value on the people’s right to know, while our laws put a higher priority on protecting privacy. It probably comes from cultural differences. But I still feel envious that in the United States, the society has a consensus that the public sector is all the fields where the tax money is spent. Unfortunately in Korea, there is no clear standard, and my information often is treated with human rights, while other people’s information is treated with the right to know.

by Shim Seo-hyun Digital content reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo

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