The NHRC criticizes the State Agencies for Violating the Right to Privacy by Disseminating Psychiatric Examination Data (07-30-2002)
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) decided on 30 July 2002 that the National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC) has violated the right to privacy as protected by Article 17 of the Constitution of Korea by submitting personal data obtained through psychiatric examination to police personnel. The NHRC has recommended to the Minister of Health and Welfare to reprimand the president of the NHIC and related personnel and to also reprimand those involved at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. The NHRC has also recommended the Ministry to delete all related files under the NHIC and to stop the practice by the police force in using the data for the purpose of screening those unqualified for a driver"s license. The NHRC urged those involved to pay damages to the related persons, and to make sure that such a practice is ceased.
The case began when the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea (BAI) requested to the president of the NHIC for the file of the patients with psychiatric or epilepsy in March 2001.In September of the same year, BAI recommended to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency to regularly check whether those 25,510 mentally ill persons are qualified for a license.
Thus, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, citing the BAI"s recommendation, asked the NHIC twice in May 2001 and March 2002 for the data on the patients and the NHIC complied.
However, given that our society is prejudiced against those persons with mental illnesses, once the data about their mental illnesses has been disseminated to the general public, such persons may be subject to even more serious human rights violations.
Likewise, the petitioners of this case also had hidden their history of mental illness from other persons even from their own families--and were very anxious that other people might find out about their illness. Furthermore, a number of doctors of the petitioners have testified that the patients" conditions had worsened after the patients had found out about the practice of the NHIC and the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.
Article 10 of the Act on the Protection of Personal Information Maintained by Public Agencies stipulates that "the head of agency shall not use or tender to another agency managed information for purpose other than those of the original possession of the private information file, except in cases where such dissemination is allowed by law." However, this does not mean that an agency may disseminate information to another agency whose intention is to use the information outside the scope of the information providing agency.
The NHIC has argued that the BAI is not an organization which has a duty to provide information to the Seoul Metropolitan Agency. Also, based on the data as submitted by the petitioners, it is hard for the NHRC to believe that there is a clear danger posed to the welfare of the society if the information had not been handed over to the police.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency claims innocence since it "only followed the recommendations of the BAI." However, it must be noted that the police are not required to follow the recommendations of the BAI (Article 34.2 of the Law on BIA), but rather the organization which has received the recommendation must decide whether or not to follow the recommendation.
The NHRC also made recommendations to: the director of the BAI, the Ministry of the Government Administration and Home Affairs, and the chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. First, the NHRC has told the director of the BAI that the recommendations it had made are incompetent and that such recommendations constitute a violation of human rights; the NHRC further advised the BAI to make sure such behavior is not repeated.
The NHRC recommended the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs and the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency to revise the related laws.
This incident clearly shows how the Government has continued to violate the individual"s right to privacy in Korean society. Although the number of petitioners in this case was 15, it seems that an additional 12,800 afflicted persons will file a suit against the Government for damages. The NHRC sincerely hopes that this decision will help stop government institutions from violating the right to privacy.