Thu, Feb 03, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Fines imposed on consumer detail leaks

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER

In order to safeguard consumer rights, beginning this year, real estate brokers are to keep clients' personal data strictly confidential or violators may face heavy fines.

According to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), on Jan. 1, the real estate brokerage industry was added to the list of the industries which are under the restrictions of the Computer-Processed Personal Data Protection Law (電腦處理個人資料保護法).

Mishandling Data

"This law curbs real estate firms from mishandling computerized personal information data of clients for illegal uses, such as releasing it for marketing and sales purposes," said Hung Chin-hsiung (洪欽雄) of the ministry's department of land administration yesterday.

For instance, Hung pointed out, some real estate brokers may release client information to contractors, who may in turn use the information for solicitation.

The law requires real estate brokers to standardize operations, as approved by a government authority during information collection, computerization and utilization.

Personal Information

Under the law, a client whose personal information has been released illegally may seek financial damages on average ranging from NT$20,000 to NT$100,000. The maximum financial damage amount is NT$20 million.

A price ceiling is set to ensure that the misconduct of an unethical agent who has released information illegally does not lead to the bankruptcy of the company he represents.

According to Ken Huang (黃德建), a former real estate broker with 17 years of experience, most real estate firms preferred not to release clients' personal information out of fear of competition.

"In this industry, client information is the most valuable asset a real estate firm possesses. Normally, such information is not given out, because other competitors may take it from you and compete with you," said Huang.

However, Huang added, real estate firms who pay their brokers a base salary but little commission may have workers who released client information in exchange for kickbacks from other business owners, such as contractors.

"That is the horizontal spread of personal data. Vertically, personal information of clients may be circulated within a company. Or, once a broker leaves one company, he may take the information with him to another company," remarked Huang.

Crackdown

In response, Cheng He-song, (鄭河松), the section chief of the MOI's department of land administration, stated that this law, along with its related management regulations, seeks to crack down on the duplication and the transfer of that personal data of clients.

"Of course there will always be unethical brokers. This law is there for the very purpose," said Cheng.

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