“The fact that personally identifiable information of elderly folks, who have never used any credit cards for the past 20-30 years, has been leaked means that all the Koreans virtually have their personal data stolen entirely,” said a TV news program anchor.
Upon ringing in the New Year, South Korea was in for a massive personal data leak of unprecedented proportions. As three major credit card companies were hardest hit by the personal data theft, almost all the Koreans fell victim to the personal data theft. As a matter of fact, the nation is no stranger to personal data leaks at all. Considering the possibility of some personal data leaks going undetected and unannounced, it is fair to say that there is no place completely safe from data theft in this nation. This time, personal data were leaked in as many as 19 categories, including resident registration numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, employment, home addresses, credit ratings, marital status and car ownership.
However, despite such an unprecedented personal data leak, the S. Korean seems anxious to come up with stopgap measures to contain the repercussions of the data loss debacle in the short term. Asked about speculation that the tremendous amounts of personal data stolen from KB Kookmin Card, NH Nonghyup Card and Lotte Card have already been illegally distributed, Korean financial authorities said, “No one has thus far come forward claiming that he or she actually suffered from the misuse of leaked personal data.” Financial authorities seem unwilling to grasp the severity of the personal data theft.
The underlying causes of this massive personal data leak are social structures condoning sloppy attitudes towards data protection and the resident registration system. The provision of personal data to financial institutions and public institutions is reasonable when people need to get a bank loan or open bank accounts. But in this nation, when people sign up for Internet cafes, flower delivery service sites, alumni association sites, etc., they are asked to offer their personally identifiable information. As a matter of fact, most Korean online, offline stores have been asking for personally identifiable information in exchange for membership. What’s more, the nation’s 40-year-old resident registration system collects personal information, such as sex, age, birthplace, etc. And a unique resident registration number given to each individual is set in stone; it cannot be changed no matter what happens.
S. Korea’s resident registration system needs to be overhauled.
Calls for restructuring the current system that identifies individuals through their resident registration numbers have been growing. Some civic groups and some political parties have been calling for the abolition of the resident registration system for several years. Each year, an average of 20,000 requests for changing resident registration numbers has been submitted. However, the S. Korea government has been adamant about this issue, repeatedly saying, “Unless obvious errors or special circumstances are detected, resident registration numbers are not subject to change. Personal data leaks are not considered as special circumstances.”
“Though the management of the resident registration system by the government is efficient, resident registration numbers have been indiscriminately used both online and offline. Thus, resident registration numbers can be easily used for criminal purposes. Therefore, the current resident registration system that gives an individual a unique serial number should be changed into a system whereby each ID card is given a unique serial number and each ID card is discarded and reissued periodically. In addition, when an ID card is reissued, it is given a new serial number, which does not offer any clues to the individual’s personal data (e.g. sex and age),” said an unnamed professor who teaches information security at a university located in Seoul.
In a situation where the personally identifiable information of all the Koreans is allegedly exposed to Chinese hackers, arguments for the need to retool the nation’s resident registration system are increasingly gaining support.