Changes to South Korea’s Personal Information Protection Act to Take Effect on March 15, 2024

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South Korea’s Personal Information Protection Act was substantially revised in March of 2023. In addition, an Enforcement Decree was announced last November, which is scheduled to take effect on March 15, 2024. The sum of changes encompasses revised fines, strengthened rights of individuals in some areas and greater flexibility for processors in others.

March 2024

The primary contents of the amendment resulting from the Enforcement Decree are as follows:

Establishment of Procedures for Exercising Data Subjects’ Rights Regarding Automated Decisions

One of the key amendments involves the establishment of detailed procedures for exercising data subjects’ rights regarding automated decisions. Recognizing the importance of transparency and accountability in automated decision-making processes, the revised law requires concise and comprehensible explanations, including details on decision outcomes and the use and impact of key personal information to be provided upon request. Since 2020, personal information is defined as follows:


1.       The term “personal information” means any of the following information relating to a living individual:
(a)        Information that identifies a particular individual by his or her full name, resident registration number, image, etc.;
(b)        Information which, even if it by itself does not identify a particular individual, may be easily combined with other information to identify a particular individual. In such cases, whether or not there is ease of combination shall be determined by reasonably considering the time, cost, technology, etc. used to identify the individual such as likelihood that the other information can be procured;
(c)        Information under items (a) or (b) above that is pseudonymized in accordance with subparagraph 1-2 below and thereby becomes incapable of identifying a particular individual without the use or combination of information for restoration to the original state (hereinafter referred to as “pseudonymized information”)

For guidance regarding what constitutes personally identifiable information in other contexts, and which might be helpful in light of the non-exhaustive list provided here, see What is PII?

Furthermore, when processors engage in fully automated decision-making processes, standards and procedures must be disclosed in advance. In cases of one-time decisions, advance notification to the affected individual is mandatory. Standardized terminologies and visualization methods are also mandated for disclosure purposes.

This initiative aligns with the growing influence of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, ensuring that individuals have the necessary tools to challenge decisions that significantly impact their rights or obligations.

Designation and Qualifications of Personal Information Protection Officer

The amendments also underscore the importance of bolstering the expertise and independence of Personal Information Protection Officers. To this end, the Enforcement Decree outlines qualifications, applicable obligations, and measures aimed at strengthening the independence of such officers. Personal information processors are now required to designate qualified individuals to oversee data protection processes with the necessary expertise and resources. Moreover, measures have been implemented to ensure the independence of personal information protection officers, including direct communication channels with management and access to resources necessary for fulfilling their duties.

Improvement of the Scope of Those Subject to Compensation Liability Guarantee

Prior to the Enforcement Decree, information and communication service providers were the ones on the hook for guaranteeing compensation for damages; now this obligation has shifted to the personal information processors.

For the private sector, certain limits to the liability regime were adjusted, i.e., applicability restrictions based on sales numbers and the number of individuals whose personal information is processed were adjusted to capture only larger companies. For public institutions, non-profit organizations, and small businesses, who are generally exempt from having to compensate for damages, specific data processing standards have been established as set out in the following section.

These changes are in addition to the sanctions regulations that have been revised in March 2023 to impose severe penalties for intentional and repeated violations while exempting minor violations resulting from simple negligence. Fines ranging from ‘3% of total sales’ to ‘exemption’ were imposed last year based on the severity of the violation, with no additional fines for the same violation. In addition, economic sanctions, such as fines, were strengthened for violations related to consent obligations and personal information safety measures.

Establishment of Standards and Procedures for Evaluating the Level of Personal Information Protection in the Public Sector

A legal framework has been established to guide the evaluation of the level of protection awarded to personal information within public institutions and to recommend improvements based on the findings. Evaluation targets, criteria, and procedures have been outlined to facilitate this process.

The goal is that with the establishment of standards for conducting personal information protection level evaluations, notification of evaluation plans, and regulations for organizing evaluation teams, evaluations will be conducted more efficiently. Evaluations will be based on submitted data, with provisions for on-site visits or face-to-face evaluations as needed.

Earlier changes already made in March 2023 with a similar thrust included measures to strengthen safety in major public system operating institutions and penalties for unauthorized personal information use. Safety measures were implemented, including appointing managers for each public system, strengthening account management obligations, and notifying individuals of unauthorized access, aiming to prevent personal information leaks in the public sector. Also, now, the misuse of personal information for personal purposes can result in imprisonment or fines.

March 2023


Further relevant amendments to the Personal Information Protection Act from March 2023 are as follows:

Disclosure of Personal Information in Emergencies, and Dispute Mediation

Other amendments that were made in March 2023 already include the permission to provide necessary personal information to relevant agencies in situations where it is vital to safeguard the lives and bodies of citizens. For example, in instances where a citizen’s life or body is at risk and immediate rescue is required, personal information may be shared with rescue organizations to facilitate timely action.

Additionally, all personal information processors are now mandated to participate in dispute mediation when citizens seek resolution for personal information disputes. Previously, this was only required of public entities, leading to instances where private companies did not participate even when mediation was sought.

Filming

Standards for operating fixed and mobile video information processing devices, such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) and drones, have been established. These standards enable the filming of video information within a reasonable scope of purposes. CCTV installation in open stores for statistical purposes, such as counting visitors, is now permissible, with provisions for temporary image processing without storage. Also, facility owners or managers with legitimate authority can install and operate CCTV for normal facility management purposes, such as collecting parking fees.

Manned or unmanned moving objects, such as self-driving cars and drones, must clearly display recording indicators to inform individuals, allowing for the capture of video along their driving paths for obstacle identification and avoidance.

Online and Offline Data Processing

Regulations have been unified for online and offline personal information processing, reducing compliance costs and effectively protecting information subject rights. Previously, different regulations applied to online and offline services, necessitating separate systems. However, with the law revision, regulations have been harmonized, streamlining compliance efforts and enhancing information subject rights protection. One notable change is that the mandatory expiration date requiring deletion of personal information of users inactive for one year will be abolished, with a voluntary dormancy policy implemented based on usage patterns.

Let’s wrap this up

In summary, the amendments to South Korea’s Personal Information Protection Act, scheduled to take effect on March 15, 2024, represent a comprehensive effort to enhance data protection and privacy rights for individuals. These changes, stemming from both the Enforcement Decree and earlier revisions in March 2023, address various aspects of personal information handling, ranging from the establishment of procedures for exercising individuals’ rights regarding automated decisions to the designation and qualifications of Personal Information Protection Officers. Additionally, the scope of compensation liability has shifted, with personal information processors now bearing the responsibility. Furthermore, the establishment of standards and procedures for evaluating the level of personal information protection in the public sector underscores the commitment to ensuring robust data management practices across different sectors. These amendments, coupled with earlier changes, signify a significant step towards fostering a more transparent, accountable, and equitable personal information handling landscape in South Korea.

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