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Massive data thefts spark review of national ID system

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Published : 2014-02-04 20:21
Updated : 2014-02-04 20:21

The Korean government has set out to review the national identification system to better protect personal information in the aftermath of a massive data theft, officials said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Security and Public Administration said Tuesday it is mulling over the overhaul of the 13-digit resident registration number, or RRN, which contains personal information about every single Korean, such as birthdate, birthplace, sex and other details.

But no matter which changes the government settles on, the use of RRNs will be more regulated as opposed to current practices, officials said. In Korea, RRNs are routinely required for a wide array of daily activities such as creating bank accounts, buying cell phones or accessing online shopping malls.

“As part of a government-wide effort to strengthen the protection of private information, we are considering amending the current RRN system,” said a public administration official. “We will confer with experts and consider all options.”

Government officials are considering assigning every citizen an “RRN issuance number” to replace the RRNs. The so-called “issuance number” will contain random digits unrelated to birth records and gender, so that identity thieves will be unable to access private information even if they succeed in obtaining RRNs.

Other possible options will offer victims of private information leak-related crimes to change their RRNs or obligate companies holding customer RRNs to encrypt the data.

Tuesday’s announcement follows the nationwide leak of client databases at Lotte Card, KB Kookmin Card Co., and NongHyup Card last year. An employee of the Korea Credit Bureau ― a credit score issuer ― stole the personal data of up to 20 million clients at these card companies while working for them as a contract employee.

“The recent leak, affecting tens of millions in this country, cannot be simply ignored. We must come up with something (to replace RRNs) that will not contain personal information,” said ruling Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Hwang Woo-yea on Tuesday.

The leak sparked a national debate about how to better safeguard personal information ― especially because hundreds of companies required customers to reveal their RRNs when registering with online shopping platforms or email accounts.

President Park Geun-hye said the current national ID system is inherently flawed and authorities should seek alternative methods.

“Resident registration numbers are prone to secondhand crimes because they are used widely,” she said during a Cabinet meeting on Jan. 27. “I ask you (Cabinet members) to brainstorm ideas after reviewing similar cases in other countries.”

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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