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The Peninsula

Data protection concerns exacerbated by lack of communication

Published November 2, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • The South Korean government shared biometric data collected at Incheon Airport with private sector artificial intelligence (AI) developers.
  • Although the project was publicly disclosed in 2019, the government had not revealed to the public that the information would be shared with private sector companies.
  • A privacy advocacy group plans to launch a class-action lawsuit in response to what it considers a breach of Korea’s existing data privacy laws.

Implications: The government often takes action before building a consensus with constituents who would be most affected by its policies. The push to support domestic AI development faces scrutiny because the government did not publicly disclose its intentions to supply industry champions with private biometric information. A similar issue arose earlier this year when President Moon Jae-in announced the goal of building the world’s largest wind farm, but neglected to engage locals living on the coastline where it would be constructed. In another recent example, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education announced that schools in the city will adopt electronic blackboards without engaging with teachers about how they would use the new boards and if there are more pressing needs to be addressed first.

Context: The COVID-19 pandemic created an environment where people were willing to conditionally surrender personal data for public health purposes. But even during the height of the pandemic, there were early tensions between policymakers and public health experts over the adoption of measures like a QR code-based tracing system. This revealed that the policymaking process sometimes excluded expert views. Concerns around the government’s use of personal data also reflect the public’s anxiety around vulnerabilities in South Korea’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Janet Hong, Yubin Huh, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of tom wang

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