In January 2014, a massive data leak of some 104 million credit card accounts shocked South Korea. The number of affected accounts was twice the number of the population of South Korea’s. The incident arose when a temporary employee of a personal credit rating agency that manages personal financial data of customers of three major credit card companies allegedly copied personal credit details of millions of people on his portable disk drive and subsequently sold the information to loan marketers and brokers.
On March 10, 2014, the Korean Government announced plans to prevent a recurrence of a large-scale security breach in the financial sector (the “Plan”) (available in Korean here). The Plan contains a number of elements that may be modeled on the EU’s proposed General Data Protection Regulation, such as turnover-based sanctions, limitations on data transfers and data retention and a reinforcement of individuals’ rights. Some of the proposed measures are supposed to be implemented by amending existing relevant laws. Members of the National Assembly have already tabled legislative proposals for a number of amendments that reflect the Plan at a parliamentary committee meeting on February 24, 2014; however, it is at present unclear when they will be discussed and adopted by the Parliament. By contrast, other measures that do not require legislative changes are likely to be implemented as quickly as possible.
If adopted, the legislative proposals will have a significant impact in particular on financial institutions that handle a large amount of Korean customers’ personal information — such as banks, credit card companies and personal credit rating agencies. However, companies in other sectors are not off the hook, as the Government has indicated the possibility of a comprehensive inquiry to improve general personal information protection beyond the financial sector in the near future.