KOREA: Internet users can clean up personal information

Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs' new online program allows people to track their resident registration numbers on the Internet

Korea Times
Monday, March 12, 2007

By Kim Tong-hyung

Internet users will be allowed to find and delete their resident registration numbers, Korea's version of social security numbers, if they are found circulating on the Web.

The Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs launched a month-long online program Monday that will allow subscribers to track the usage of their identification numbers on Internet Web sites since 2001.

The program, available through April 12, can be accessed through the Web sites of the ministry and municipal governments, and also through the popular portal sites Naver (www.naver.com) and Daum (www.daum.net).

The sites will be linked to online search programs operated by the Korea Information Service, the National Information and Credit Evaluation, and the Seoul Credit Rating and Information.

A subscriber can choose one of the three companies, which will compile a list of Web sites using his or her identification number.

"So many Internet sites have been requiring their users to reveal their resident registration numbers, whether it is for online shopping, gaming or e-mail accounts. It is a problem that this type of information was poorly protected and is circulating on the Internet without any consent of the owners," Choi Eui-rye, a ministry official said.

Over concerns of privacy infringement, the government had been pressuring Internet companies to reduce their requirement of resident registration numbers a 13-digit number that includes birth date, gender and registration site when signing up customers.

With Korea having one of the world's highest Internet penetration rates, privacy thefts have become an increasing problem. Last year, law enforcement authorities found the resident registration numbers of more than 1.2 million people intercepted by hackers who sought to create fake accounts for online games.

A public debate over strengthening the protection of private information followed, leading the Home Affairs Ministry to announce a new law that punishes privacy violators with up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of 10 million won.

The Ministry of Information and Communication even introduced a personal identification system that it claimed could serve as an alternative to resident registration numbers.

Critics have been accusing Internet companies for requiring subscribers to provide a large amount of personal information under their signup policies without clarifying how the data will be used.