SEOUL, South Korea, 29 June 2004
In 2003 the Presidential Committee on Government Innovation and Decentralization, under the influence of the Prime Minister, proposed a law for personal information protection which would incorporate both public and private sectors. As the public’s demand for a general personal information protection act steadily increases, government bodies and civil society organizations are actively monitoring this issue. On the other hand, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs has passed to the National Assembly amended legislation for public organizations regarding the protection of personal information. In a separate context, the Ministry of Information and Communication also made an announcement that they would establish legislation for private sectors regarding personal information protection.
Civil society organizations advocating for the protection of human rights in our information society have criticized the current situation whereby different government bodies are working independently of one another. They maintain that the privacy protection act should be established under the supervision of an independent body which can deal with both the public and private sectors.
The Ministry of Information and Communication held a public hearing on May 21st 2004 which was organized to address the public’s concerns regarding the establishment of legislation for personal information protection. However, the government and civil organizations entered into a dispute concerning the proposed legislation.
Currently in the Republic of Korea, the Personal Information Protection Act deals with two separate areas. One is the public sector and its treatment of personal information and the other is the utilization of information, communication and protection on the Internet. Ki-Kwon Kim, Department Head of Ministry of Information and Communication, explained this legislative bill seeks to narrow the coverage of the existing Communication Network Act in order to strengthen the personal information protection already in place. It is an attempt to protect personal information collected for commercial use by private sectors in information and communication systems.
Citizen’s Action Network, one of the civil and social organizations present at the hearing, criticized the independent approach of the Ministry of Information and Communication regarding legislation proposals. Jun-Woo Park, team leader of Civil Action, questioned the significance of distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial sectors as well as the public and private sector.
Another audience participant, who introduced himself as an activist of the No Fingerprint Alliance, expressed skepticism as to whether the Ministry of Information and Communication is capable of exercising proper information protection for private sectors. He pointed out how the Ministry has historically reflected business interests while continuing to do a poor job of protecting personal information even as it was promoting the information and communications industry.
Dispute regarding the independence of supervisory authority.
A public hearing jointly organized by human rights organizations was held on May 26th 2004 at the National Assembly Member’s Office regarding the proposal of human rights organizations for personal information protection act. Eun-Woo Lee, of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, emphasized the personal information protection act must maintain and defend its independence from the government, companies and employers, as its mission is to protect the public from the government, consumers from companies and employees from employers. Lee declared emphatically that to protect this independence, a Personal Information Protection Commission should be organized as an independent supervisory authority similar to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. He argued even if we admitted the legislation amendment as proposed by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs as well as the Ministry of Information Communication is allowed to go forward, there is serious concern if the independence of supervisory authority from the government could not be assured.
Byoung-Il Oh, the executive secretary of Korean Progressive Network ‘Jinbonet’, insisted a well-organized plan should be laid out in order to eliminate any confusion in establishment procedures of relevant privacy protection laws. He also stressed a conference group consisting of government bodies and civil organizations should be organized.
As different government entities continue making independent movements for their own interests towards this pressing issue, it will be interesting to watch whether the law for personal information protection, currently being prepared by the Presidential Committee on Government Innovation and Decentralization, will reflect the concerns voiced by human rights organizations.