In response to rampant fraud in Taiwan, the Control Yuan on Thursday said it intended to impeach members of the Cabinet. The reaction of the Control Yuan and the Cabinet implied that they see anti-fraud activities as the domain of the Criminal Investigation Bureau and its “165” anti-fraud hotline, but anti-fraud activities cannot be handled by a hotline or the bureau alone.
Government streamlining means the bureau will have to make cutbacks, while ignoring the two main sources of fraud: personal information leaks and the integration of Internet and telecommunications services. Because of the government’s inability to integrate its resources to respond to these two key problem areas, police have been unable to deal efficiently with fraud. The police only respond to crimes — they cannot change policies or information management measures.
In April, I was informed that an online shopping site had problems protecting the personal information of its customers. In mid-June, 8,000 personal details were leaked from the EHS Web site. This was only discovered when a reporter gained access to the information by registering as a customer.
It was only then that many people who had received fraudulent or threatening telephone calls realized where the perpetrators had obtained their personal information.
It is very possible that millions of private details have been leaked on the Web, yet customers can do nothing because they may not even be aware that their information has been leaked.
Even though leaks of personal information are a main source of fraud, Taiwan has no authority in charge of closing down Web site operators guilty of this type of neglect. Instead, customers continue to shop at Web sites that leak their personal details and fraud continues.
The National Communications Commission (NCC) should be charged with overseeing the Internet, but because the Web never has been within its remit and because overseeing Web sites touches on commercial operations, information security and other areas not under its jurisdiction, it has been difficult for the NCC to take up the role as regulator.
The information industry’s gradual integration of information, communications, telecommunications and broadcasting complicates government oversight.
While criminals have increased flexibility in accessing information through integrated technology, government authorities ruled by a rigid framework of rules are still working independently of one another.
The government must speed up integration, lest it be unable to respond to fraud. For example, criminals suspected of fraud avoid being caught by using IP telephony to call from China or other countries, changing their caller ID to a government number or even 165 to foil investigators.
Unless the government designates an agency to oversee the Internet and get a handle on key sources of fraud, it will be difficult to resolve these problems, even if the number of police officers dealing with fraud is increased substantially. Criminals are constantly improving their technology and approaches.
The Cabinet should assist the NCC with integrating the concerned agencies to establish a mechanism for overseeing the Internet. Regulating the problems that are leading to massive leaks of personal information is a crucial first step to fighting fraud.
Yang Yung-nane is a professor of political science at National Cheng Kung University.
TRANSLATED BY PERRY SVENSSON
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