Cybersecurity News that Matters

Cybersecurity News that Matters

South Korean court upholds government’s COVID-19 data collection, dismisses privacy appeal

Designed by Areum Hwang, The Readable

by Kuksung Nam

Apr. 29, 2024
11:14 PM GMT+9

South Korea’s Constitutional Court has upheld the government’s decision to collect personal information during the COVID-19 pandemic, ruling that it does not violate citizens’ privacy rights.

On April 25, the Constitutional Court revealed that the judges unanimously rejected an appeal filed against the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act. The appeal argued that the law violated the basic right to control one’s personal information. Additionally, the court dismissed another appeal claiming that the South Korean government exceeded its authority under the legislation by collecting location data, thereby infringing upon citizen’s privacy rights.

A South Korean citizen lodged an appeal in 2020 after receiving a message from the Seoul Metropolitan Government advising those who had visited the Itaewon area to undergo a COVID-19 test. Between April 30 and May 5, South Korea witnessed a significant COVID-19 outbreak in the Itaewon area, during which nearly 153 individuals tested positive. Despite not visiting locations where infected individuals had been identified, the appellant was nevertheless branded a person likely to have been exposed to the virus. Consequently, after dining at an area restaurant and returning home, the individual was classified as a person likely to be a carrier of the virus and targeted with an advisory.

Under the law, South Korean authorities are permitted to collect sensitive information about individuals suspected or affected by infectious diseases under circumstances deemed necessary, such as preventing and controlling outbreaks, even without their consent. This information may include an individual’s name, resident registration number, address, and phone number. According to court documents, the South Korean government obtained the names and phone numbers of individuals who had spent more than 30 minutes in the area from telecommunications companies.

The court elucidated the rationale behind its decision, asserting that the law serves the public interest by enabling the government to implement efficient and prompt measures to combat the spread of infectious diseases. The ruling further emphasized that the law permits the temporary collection of personal information under specific circumstances, thereby mitigating the risk of infringing upon citizens’ privacy rights. Additionally, the court clarified its dismissal, stating that since it pertains to the authorization granted to authorities under the law, it does not constitute a violation of constitutional rights.

The Lawyers for a Democratic Society expressed profound concerns regarding the Constitutional Court’s decision. In a joint statement with four other civic organizations, the Digital Information Committee asserted that, according to the country’s laws, the South Korean government collected data from over 10,000 individuals who visited the Itaewon area. “The collection of location information, in conjunction with personal data as stipulated by the country’s laws, constitutes unlawful data harvesting. This constitutes a clear violation of basic rights,” stated the Digital Information Committee.


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  • Kuksung Nam
    : Author

    Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and...

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