On July 6, 2015, the Korean National Assembly passed a bill containing several amendments to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). This bill (the Amendment Bill) combines a number of major provisions from nine previous different bills – e.g., one introduced in 2013 and eight proposed in 2014 following the massive data breach of three major credit card companies that occurred in January 2014 (the Credit Card Company Data Breach). Although the amended version of the PIPA (the Amended Act) will take effect upon its promulgation (yet to be determined), most of the provisions that will significantly affect the obligations and responsibilities of data handlers are scheduled to take effect either a year after the Amended Act’s promulgation or on January 1, 2016. For timely compliance with the amended law, companies processing customer or employee data need to keep an eye on the respective effective dates of provisions of the Amended Act that are particularly applicable to them.

1. Significance of the Amendment

The PIPA was adopted in 2011, among others, to protect the privacy of individuals and their personal information from unlawful collection, leakage, appropriation and misuse. However, even after the PIPA’s enactment in 2011, large-scale data breaches were not uncommon, and the Credit Card Company Data Breach last year was the final straw that prompted a call for stricter data protection and privacy regulations across the board to raise awareness of the significance of data protection and security and potential serious risks. The Amendment Bill keeps pace with the stricter rules of the recently amended version of the Utilization and Protection of Credit Information Act.

More specifically, the Amendment Bill extends stronger protection measures to individuals affected by data breaches by providing for punitive damages and statutory damages. Further, heavier penalties are imposed on those who violate certain provisions of the PIPA, and illegal proceeds generated from such violations are subject to forfeiture and collection. Whereas the current version of the PIPA provided for the recovery of damages in the event an individual’s personal information was stolen, lost, leaked, falsified or damaged, the Amendment Bill explicitly prescribes “fabrication” of personal information as an additional type of data breach, so that affected individuals will also be able to claim damages if their personal information is fabricated. The Amendment Bill also awards broader authority to the Personal Information Protection Committee (PIPC) to address loopholes relating to the practical operation of the PIPC in the PIPA, and provides for the legal grounds for the designation of institutions for data protection certification. Overall, the Amendment Bill contains provisions that increase the level of penalties imposed on violators.

Some of the key changes to the PIPA pursuant to this amendment are summarized below.

2. Adoption of Punitive Damages and Statutory Damages Provisions

The Amendment Bill deletes Article 39(2) of the PIPA which sets forth the mitigating circumstances of a data handler’s liability for damages incurred by a data subject whose personal information is mishandled. Furthermore, under the Amendment Bill, if a person suffers [...]

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