Yesterday (Jan. 15, 2024), police raided the offices of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (hereinafter referred to as the KCSC) on suspicion of “personal information leakage,” a violation of the Personal Information Protection Act.
Open Net Korea condemns this police raid, which abuses its investigative powers to suppress public interest reports, and calls for the revision of the Personal Information Protection Act, which is being used as a means to suppress such public interest reports and media reports.
The Act On The Prevention Of Corruption And The Establishment And Management Of The Anti-corruption And Civil Rights Commission and the Public Interest Whistleblower Protection Act require public officials to report acts of public interest infringement or corruption when they become aware of such acts (Article 56 of the Act On The Prevention Of Corruption And The Establishment And Management Of The Anti-corruption And Civil Rights Commission, Article 7 of the Public Interest Whistleblower Protection Act) and to submit evidence when reporting (Article 58 of the Act On The Prevention Of Corruption And The Establishment And Management Of The Anti-corruption And Civil Rights Commission, Article 8 of the Public Interest Whistleblower Protection Act). In addition, even if a report under these laws contains professional secrets, it is not considered a violation of the duty to observe professional secrecy, notwithstanding other laws and regulations (Article 66(4) of the Corruption Prevention Act, Article 14(4) of the Public Interest Whistleblower Protection Act). In addition, in a case where a doctor was prosecuted under Article 59 of the Personal Information Protection Act for submitting a surgical record containing a patient’s personal information as evidence in the course of reporting a violation of medical law, such as surrogate surgery, to an investigative agency for public purposes, he was acquitted as a justified act under Article 20 of the Criminal Act (Seoul Eastern District Court, July 9, 2020, judgment 2019 No. 1842; Supreme Court, June 29, 2023, judgment 2020 Do 10564).
Accordingly, the act of processing the complainant’s personal information to report the suspected misconduct of Ryu Hee-rim, the chairman of the NTRC, cannot be considered an ‘act under another law’ as stipulated in the Personal Information Protection Act, or as a ‘justifiable act’ under the Criminal Code as an act for public interest reporting, and thus cannot be considered an offense of violating the Personal Information Protection Act. In addition to being illegal, conducting a criminal investigation into a public act that contributes to the development of society, which violates the fundamental right of seizure, is considered an abuse of investigative powers and political repression.
The Personal Information Protection Act should be revised to ensure that it is not abused as a means of media control by those in political and economic power and that it does not discourage individuals from reporting on public interest, social whistleblowing, and journalism, thereby ensuring freedom of speech and expression and the right to know.
The GDPR (European Data Protection Legislative Directive) requires in Article 85 that privacy laws be “harmonized with freedom of expression” and has a general exemption for the processing of data for “public interest purposes” (Article 6(e)). The Korean Personal Information Protection Act needs to be revised following these legislative examples, including the creation of a general exemption for the processing of personal information for public interest purposes. In addition, even before such legislation is enacted, courts and other judicial bodies should confirm that public interest reporting is a legally protected act by declaring that public interest reporting and media reporting are not illegal acts under Article 20 of the Criminal Code as “legitimate acts” in cases of violation of the Personal Information Protection Act.