Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Ways to protect personal data floated

PRIVACY The leaking of bank customers' personal information on a Web site has led some to question whether the government and the law can protect consumers

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government should hire more people trained in overseeing financial institutions and tighten laws to better protect people's personal information, consumer representatives and legislators said yesterday.

Last week, the personal information of more than 2,000 people who applied online for a Citibank N.A. credit card was leaked, probably as a result of a computer error.

The bank closed its online credit-card-application service immediately after discovering the flaw and said that none of its customers' personal information had been illegally browsed or used.

The incident sparked concerns about whether the government is fulfilling its duties in guarding people's rights and interests.

"In this case, the government authority, the Bureau of Monetary Affairs, should play the role of gatekeeper. Otherwise the Law for the Protection of Computer-Managed Personal Information (電腦處理個人資料保護法) will become just a formality," said Lin Shih-hua (林世華), chairman of the Net Consumers Association.

"According to the law, the bureau should verify whether or not the banks have designated manpower to specifically manage their customers' personal information before approving plans to open new online banking services," Lin said.

It is also the bureau's responsibility to check if any flaws exist in the programs designed for online banking services before applications are approved, Lin added.

However, the key for the bureau to be a good overseer lies in its personnel, Lin said. The bureau may not have enough professional talent to keep up with the proliferation of online financial services, Lin said.

"The bureau currently has too few professionals to conduct supervision on the increasing number of online services provided by the financial sector," said Norman Yin (殷乃平), a People First Party legislator who is also a finance professor at National Chengchi University.

Yin said the case was not unique to Citibank. He expressed concern that the lack of professional talent would result in the government's inability to deal with similar cases in the future.

"The government should promote the cultivation of talent possessing the professional knowledge of both finance and information science to handle preliminary checks and conduct supervision of online financial services ... in order to protect consumers' personal information from being leaked," Yin said.

To enhance the legal protection of consumers' rights, Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏), secretary-general of the Consumers' Foundation, called for further amendments to the Law for the Protection of Computer-Managed Personal Information.

"According the current regulations, the maximum compensation for a single personal information leak case is only NT$20 million. This means that the more victims there are, the smaller amount of compensation each can get," Cheng said.

Cheng appealed for harsher punishments and increased compensation to prompt financial institutions to be more careful.

"As in the US, we expect the government to formulate regulations to stop improper commercial promotion and the increasing amount of junk mail which is exacerbating the leak of personal information," Cheng said.

"As soon as people encounter improper promotions or receive junk mail, they can file a lawsuit to ask for compensation," Cheng said.

Chen also urged the government to include personal information collected offline in the amendments to the Law for the Protection of Computer-Managed Personal Information, which would further enhance the protection of personal information.

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