A Vietnamese-Taiwanese surnamed Hoang (黃) yesterday panned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) for citing privacy protection as the reason for declining her request to see videos of her husband’s visa interviews, after his application was turned down three times.
Hoang, a naturalized citizen of Vietnamese origin, married a Vietnamese surnamed Ngo in Vietnam last year. Ngo’s application for a visa was turned down three times, after three separate interviews in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
“Last year, I had to travel back and forth between Taiwan and Vietnam several times just to see my husband and to accompany him to interviews for his immigration visa,” Hoang, accompanied by rights advocates, told a news conference in Taipei. “The traveling was a huge economic, psychological and physical burden for me.”
To appeal the visa rejections, Hoang applied to the MOFA for copies of video recordings of her husband’s visa interviews. The ministry rejected the request, citing the Personal Information Protection Act (個人資料保護法), saying that releasing the videos may violate the privacy of visa officers.
“This doesn’t make any sense, these people [visa officers] are not just anyone, they are government employees doing their job, and it’s not like I don’t know who they are — I saw them in person during the interviews,” Hoang said.
Chiu Wen-tsung (邱文聰), from the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, supported Hoang’s call.
“I think the question to ask here is: Does the government have the right to cover its own face? Does a civil servant have the right to cover his or her face when carrying out an assignment?” he asked.
“I would answer ‘no’, because, for example, a police officer on assignment is required by law to show his or her identity when asked to. If the ministry’s interpretation of the Personal Information Protection Act applies here, then all police officers could cover their faces when they are on duty,” he added.
Citing the Government Information Exposure Act (政府資訊公開法), Chiu said that Hoang has the right to ask for a copy of a document concerning herself from the government, as long as she does not make it public.
MOFA officials insisted that the ministry has the right to withhold the videos, saying it could provide Hoang a written transcript of the interviews.
However, Lee Shih-teh (李世德), an official from the Ministry of Justice, disagreed.
“I don’t think the Personal Information Protection Act applies in this case because a citizen has the right to obtain information about himself or herself from the government, protection of privacy [for civil servants] should not be used as a reason to decline,” Lee said.
On hearing Lee’s comments, an official from MOFA’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said the bureau would review its policy.