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SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Chung Hong-won instructed the financial watchdog chief Monday to sternly punish those responsible for a recent massive leak of personal information of credit card users, calling for fundamental measures to prevent recurrence.
According to the prosecution, sensitive personal information, including resident registration numbers, bank account numbers and credit ratings, of as many as 104 million customers were leaked altogether from the country's major credit card firms of KB Kookmin Card Co., NH Nonghyup Card Co. and Lotte Card Co.
"Relevant institutions should do everything to learn the exact situation of the data leak to prevent the stolen information from being used by financial scammers," Chung told Shin Je-yoon, the chairman of the policymaking regulatory body, the Financial Services Commission.
He then instructed the watchdog chief to set up a task force involving the government and the credit card firms to find out what caused the incident and who is responsible for it, according to the Prime Minister's Secretariat.
Chung then called on the authorities concerned to "greatly strengthen punishment for those who leaked the information to deter anyone from daring to conduct such crimes."
He also stressed the need for "fundamental solutions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents," such as levying fines on credit card firms.
Speaking at a meeting with ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers later in the day, Shin apologized for "causing concern" to the public and vowed to act quickly to ease their fears.
"If there is a need for institutional and legal measures, we will make improvements as soon as possible through consultations with the party," he said.
The ruling party's chief policymaker Kim Gi-hyeon berated the credit card firms involved.
"I don't understand how the credit card firms in question didn't work over the weekend in such an emergency situation," he said. "It only makes sense to ban the collection of excessive personal information."
Rival political parties expressed serious concern over the incident and called for strict punishment of those responsible.
"It's a truly shocking incident that shouldn't have happened," ruling party spokesman Yoo Il-ho said. "Effective and reliable measures should be taken to ensure that no further harm is done to the people."
Ruling party spokeswoman Min Hyun-joo also expressed astonishment, saying the government is shifting responsibility to financial institutions, while the financial institutions are leaving individuals to handle the case on their own.
The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) vowed to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents by revising relevant laws, among other measures.
"The financial authorities should take responsibility and take practical measures, including strict punishment of those responsible for the leak," DP spokesman Park Kwang-on said.
The massive leakage came less than a month after personal data of some 130,000 customers of Standard Chartered Bank Korea and Citi Bank Korea was stolen, the largest number in the history of the banking sector in South Korea.
In the wake of the case, the Financial Customer Agency said Monday it will request the Financial Supervisory Service to launch a probe into the banks and credit card firms that experienced the leaks of their customers' information.
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