Mon, Sep 06, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Cabinet mulls tighter data protection

AMENDMENT A case involving the alleged release of personal information by civil servants has prompted the government to consider severe punishments

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Penalties for businesses and individuals leaking personal information will be toughened as the Cabinet is set to approve draft amendments to a data-protection rule.

"While we're aware of legislators' concerns, we thought it would be a better idea to stick with our own draft amendments to the Computer-Processed Personal Data Protection Law (電腦處理個人資料保護法)," said David Liu (劉佐國), a senior specialist at the Ministry of Justice's Department of Legal Affairs. "Their proposal sounds awfully severe. It's not only unfair to first-time offenders, it also goes against international practice."

Liu was referring to another draft proposed by DPP lawmakers Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯), Chen Chao-lung (陳朝龍) and Yu Jan-daw (余政道).

The trio have called for a broader application of the law and for heavier punishment for people caught selling sensitive information following a furor over fraud cases reported in March this year.

Capping a one-year investigation, the Kaohsiung District Prosecutor's Office in May brought a criminal case against 32 civil servants and civilians for their role in leaking 2 million entries of illegally obtained personal information.

Prosecutors found that an organized crime syndicate headed by Hsiao Ron-hsiung (蕭榮祥) began in 1995 to bribe law enforcement officers, coast guard patrol examiners, the privatized Chunghwa Telecom Co and private telecommunication company employees to obtain personal information such as home telephone numbers, mobile phone numbers, household registration, car registration and bank account information.

Hsiao then sold the illegally obtained information to other crime rings and individuals, including lawmakers, police officers and employees of credit information offices.

After learning that civil servants were believed to be involved in the case, Premier Yu Shyi-kun requested government agencies concerned to map out pre-emptive measures and beef up efforts to strengthen the internal audits of telecom service providers.

Yu also requested legal revisions to existing rules to curb similar occurrences in the future.

One of the laws that needs to be revamped is the Computer-Processed Personal Data Protection Law.

Under the Cabinet's draft, the law would cover all kinds of personal information which could be deemed private and deserved protection.

The law presently protects only personal information which is managed, processed, stored or distributed by computers.

The punishment for those who release personal information for commercial purposes would also be increased.

While the current maximum sentence is a two-year jail term or a NT$40,000 fine, the draft would increase this to up to five years imprisonment or a maximum fine of NT$1 million.

The three DPP lawmakers, however, proposed to increase this to seven years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of NT$1 million, claiming that heavier punishments always serve as a more effective deterrent.

In addition, groups enjoying the prerogative to obtain personal information would have that privilege revoked.

Under current rules, workers in eight professional fields are allowed to collect personal information for business purposes. These eight professions are: Private detective agencies, banks, hospitals, schools, telecom and Internet service providers, insurance companies, the media and stock-exchange companies.

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