Tue, Apr 17, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Group questions official personal data requests

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

The government in 2015 and 2016 requested personal data from private businesses on almost 66,000 occasions without the knowledge of the people targeted, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights said yesterday in a report.

The 2018 Taiwan Internet Transparency Report analyzes the government’s use of personal online data and Internet censorship practices in those two years.

The association asked more than 60 government agencies to provide statistics on how many times they requested and gathered Internet users’ data, the ways the data was collected, which law or laws were cited and to whom they made the requests, association researcher Ho Ming-syuan (何明諠) said.

While many offered incomplete statistics or refused to cooperate, the association found that 11 agencies had requested personal data from private businesses a total of 65,884 times, Ho said.

Law enforcement agencies made 95 percent of the requests and all refused to disclose how they informed the businesses, why they needed the data and the names of the companies, he said.

They monitored private communications in more than 25,000 of the cases, but it is unclear how many of them were online communications, he said.

The Investigation Bureau said it requested users’ personal data on 3,973 occasions, but was only able to name the law cited as the legal basis for such requests on 3,336 occasions, he said.

While local Internet service providers, including Far EasTone Telecommunications Co (遠傳電信) and Taiwan Mobile Co (台灣大哥大), agreed to nearly every government request for user data, foreign companies, such as Google, Facebook and Line, agreed to about 65 percent, the association found.

While access to most online content is not restricted by the government, the existence of iWin, a government-funded institution that promotes Internet safety and a government-developed parental control app, raised questions over freedom of speech, Ho said.

iWin, which handles public complaints related to online content and provides suggestions for parental control apps, does not have clear standards on what content should be blocked, he added.

The Ministry of Education’s Network Guardian Angel app has blocked the Web sites of the Taiwan Alliance to End Death Penalty and the pro-LGBT rights group Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, along with several other pages on sex education and LGBT rights, he said.

“Those Web sites do not have any naked photographs or violence. This raises questions of whether the government is trying to censor information on certain topics,” he said.

“We are not saying the government should not gather personal data, but we believe the practice should be supervised,” association secretary-general Chiu Ee-ling (邱伊翎) said.

The surveillance measures should be proportional to the severity of the case and the government should publish complete sets of statistics to better protect people’s rights, she added.

Since Taiwan does not have a data protection authority, such as the one the EU is to establish once its General Data Protection Regulation takes effect next month, it is important that each agency reviews and collects statistics on the data they collect to better protect people’s privacy, said Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), who has helped collect such statistics.

The government should also educate officials on Internet privacy, as many older officials are still unfamiliar with the issue, she added.

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