Greater respect for privacy deters leaks of personal information

The cause of recent massive personal information leakage involving card companies in Korea is not only in a poor risk management system. Korea needs to look at the deeper source of this long-standing problem of information leakage which continues to resurface.

A business culture that demands excessive amounts of personal information from those who apply for bank accounts or credit cards represents a violation of the privacy rights of consumers.

As the most widely respected human rights document in history, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12) states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence. It says everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

The right of privacy originates in the view that ordinary human beings are endowed with dignity that demands the recognition and protection of certain fundamental rights such as privacy. Those rights are not a privilege given by the government or the business community. They are important to empower ordinary people to protect themselves and their affairs from those in authority.

In the digital age, the right to privacy is being eroded because of large, powerful institutional actors that can build and manipulate massive databases. Some governments and corporations are defining the operative legal standards in this area in a way that serves their interests and often deprives consumers and the public of their right to privacy.

Human rights that are critical to democratic society are being redefined in our digital culture with law and legal standards struggling to catch up with technology. The norms and standards for privacy are being set by those with the power to collect, store and manipulate consumer data but with little or no reference to important human rights norms. So the law and business culture in Korea must catch up with technology if human rights are to be protected to minimize future incidents of privacy breach.

Human rights exist to protect the weak against the strong, the poor against the powerful, and in the information age, the technologically vulnerable from those with the power to store vast amounts of data such as the government and corporations.

We can assume that the profit motive of businesses will always lead them to maximize the degree to which they capture and store consumer data. So laws and society must set norms that limit corporations to collecting only data that is necessary for them to provide a specific product or service that the consumer seeks to purchase. Even worse, the principle that “whatever is stored can be stolen” is an axiom of the digital age. So the storage of large amounts of private data by corporations guarantees that some of the data will be stolen in the future.

Privacy is a human right and must be treated as such. This is the only foundation for meaningful, long-term reform of a problem that continues to plague Korea and other technologically advanced societies. Among the highly developed free nations, Korea is the poster child for corporate abuse of privacy rights in the same way that the U.S. has become the poster child for government abuse of privacy rights. As the most digitally wired nation in the world, Korea is and will be a global trend setter in the critical area of rights of privacy online. So policies and practices in Korea will influence online privacy trends worldwide.

The government should ban and impose financial penalties upon companies that require consumers to provide excessive amounts of personal information. Some companies will continue to pressure consumers until they are faced with an economic incentive to do otherwise.

At the same time, consumers should call attention to companies that treat the public poorly in this way; and companies that respect the privacy of consumers need to be rewarded with more business — in the same way that “green” companies are rewarded because they don’t pollute the environment that consumers and their families live in.

Korea is the “canary in the coal mine” for privacy rights.Miners often carried canaries with them to warn againsttoxic gas in the air when going into coal mines.As a digital leader, how Korea handles privacy issues will set a standard for other countries around the world with respect to privacy rights in the Digital Age.

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