SEOUL, March 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's telecom authorities may fine KT Corp. up to 100 million won (US$93,414) for a recent data leak, industry sources said Monday, a punishment some consumer groups argue is too weak.
An investigation found that a group of hackers was behind the data theft from KT, exposing personal information of some 9.81 million clients of the country's second-largest mobile carrier.
A team of government officials and online security specialists have been looking into the case after the Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency arrested three suspects on March 7 for allegedly breaking into the company's website and stealing 12 million pieces of personal data over a year.
Despite the massive leakage, however, industry watchers said the government can only impose fines rather than business suspensions due to the country's telecom law.
Local law states a telecom firm is subject to a business suspension only when it profits by using subscribers' information. Only fines are possible when data are leaked due to carelessness.
Industry watchers said the law compares to that applied to the country's three credit card firms -- KB Kookmin Card Co., NH Nonghyup Card Co. and Lotte Card Co. -- which were slapped with three-month suspensions after sensitive client data were leaked in masses in January.
"Unlike credit card-related rules, the country's telecom law does not acknowledge that data leakage is a financial mishap that causes damage to customers' personal assets," a governmental official said. "Accordingly, a business suspension is not an option unless KT has collected personal data without users' consent."
Local consumer activists said the government should revise the current rules, as such massive data leakage stirs fear among victims that the information would be used in financial scams.
"All personal information managed by mobile carriers and financial firms are equally important," said Yoon Myung, an official from Consumers Korea said. "(The government) should make adjustments in its punitive actions related to such leakage of data."
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