University students make up a large percentage of this Internet population. And 97.9 percent of university students are said to be frequent users of the Internet, according to a recent report by the KRNIC. However, with such a sharp increase in the Internet population, theft of personal data has become a serious problem. Reported cases of personal data theft have grown from 2,297 in 2000 and 14,181 in 2001 to 39,750 this year. The KRNIC estimates that at this rate, there will be over 50,000 reports of such cases by the end of the year.
Personal data includes not only names or identification numbers but any information about a person that can be used for identifying that person. Specific examples of personal data include information about one"s physical condition such as health reports or clinical histories, information about one? career like scholarships or employment records, and even information about religion, family and ideology.
Theft of the data can be problematic because personal data is considered as one of the most valuable economic assets in this information age. In fact, personal data has been extensively collected or purchased by businesses without the consent of its subjects for direct marketing and online commerce. Plus, it cannot be over-emphasized that medical records and health information are much more personal and confidential than any other kind of personal data. When the medical records are illegally obtained and used as a standard of judgment in job recruitment or school admission, it constitutes a violation of human rights.
Freechal (www.freechal.com), one of the largest portal site companies in Korea, has over 300,000 personal Internet communities and 90,000 group communities. Other portal sites such as Daum (www.daum.net) and Sayclub (www.sayclub.com) support similar numbers of cyber communities. Most of these portal sites require members to register personal data for membership. Moreover, many students these days also own at least one personal website that contains personal data such as profiles, pictures, diaries, etc.
"As the virtual reality of the Internet world widens, cyber identity has become as important as in the real world. This is one of the reasons why homepages and websites on the net are becoming so popular," points out Lee Yu-jin, a system advisor at Freechal. Most of these portal sites require members to register personal data for membership.
However, regulations for personal data protection are not strong enough to prevent theft of personal information. Although many portal sites are utilizing various security services and are applying security devices, the rate of hacking and personal data theft have not dropped.
"What we need, besides the limited legal restrictions, is the conversion of people"s mind," says Chang Gyung-mi, a volunteer counselor at the Personal Data Protection Center (PDPC).
According to a recent survey regarding personal data protection and spam mail exclusion conducted by the PDPC, 86.8 percent of respondents answered that Internet website membership required too much personal data, and 95.7 percent said they felt worried about privacy invasion on the web.
There are some options for those concerned about the theft of their personal data. NGOs and government-funded centers have been created to protect people"s privacy. The Ministry of Information and Communication, Citizen"s Network Action, and the PDPC are just a few of them. "There are a number of other ways a consumer or an Internet user can report and fight against privacy invasion on the web," says Chang of PDPC. As Chang concludes, "It"s just a click away."