IT-related Law Must Be Balanced

This is one of the writer's columns, which is carried by a daily newspaper on December 17, 2004.

The Glass Pyramid in front of the Louvre Museum is the first and the last scene of the best selling novel, Da Vinci Code. Like other visitors, I was also quite impressed when I stepped into the entrance of the Museum.

On an autumn day in 2002, the French agency for data protection, CNIL, hosted a dinner party for all participants of the International Conference of Data Protection Commissioners at the center of the main hall just below the Glass Pyramid. The unforgettable party consisted of two sessions. At first, the participants could make a short guided tour to the most frequently visited halls and works including Mona Lisa. In the second session, all of us enjoyed full course French dinner listening to the chansong and pop song medley of the French Army Choir.

At that time, I realized that data protection is not a mere legal matters but a kind of cultural code in the French way of life. Privacy was a matter of fundamental rights in the European countries where Fascism and Communism made havoc of human rights during the World War II and thereafter.

During the year of 2004 in Korea, the government and the ruling party as well as civilian organizations made efforts to establish a data protection act. Their proposals have some basic provisions in common, but more different regulatory frameworks including data protection watchdog, criminal punishment and even a class action against data protection offenders.

In this regard, I think the first thing to do is striking a balance among the privacy issue, market behaviors and technological innovation. For example, information technologies (IT) which might infringe upon individual privacy are advancing day by day while various new products utilizing such state-of-the-art technologies are appealing to consumers. On the other hand, the law and regulations are slow in governing this new wave of the information age. So, if the law has to regulate the technical innovation and market behaviors, IT industries would be thwarted in their full swing development.

Take another example of the smart card, which was once proposed to contain personal information in a microchip on the ID card. Facing the fierce opposition because of the possibility of personal data infringement, the Korean government deserted its plan to introduce the smart card to all the citizens even with any appropriate protective measures, and accordingly lost the huge market regarding such smart card technology in the world.

At present, the radio frequency identification (RFID) tag is at issue. When the Korea Information Security Agency, a government institution in charge of data protection, is devising a RFID privacy guideline, it seems that IT businesses and the citizens organizations have different voices on the RFID-involved privacy issue. While IT industries assert that RFID is in no way different from the currently used bar code, non-governmental organizations are afraid that the RFID-contained data connected with other information systems might be misused against personal privacy. In this regard, we must bear in mind that the far fetched law and regulation on data protection would stymie the development of IT industries in their burgeoning stage.

Now we can see the lion's share of Korean exports belongs to IT products like semi-conductors, mobile phones and computer systems. If we want to sustain further the driving force of IT industries, we have to stave off the over-regulation in this area. The first and foremost solution to the data protection is not the law and regulation but the technological breakthrough. Then it will lead to the technological innovation and market enlargement of such technology.

As the novel Da Vinci Code makes a mega-hit around the world, its readers would make a pilgrimage tour to the Glass Pyramid of the Louvre Museum. Likewise, the balanced harmony of IT law, technology and market would make Korea a country for the users of Korea-made IT products to follow suit.

(Source: The Open Forum of the ET News on December 17, 2004)