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Effects of personal information legislation beginning to surface

The China Post news staff--Prosecution documents, including indictments, released by courts and prosecutors' offices to news media are now hard to comprehend as they are filled with blank circles designed to cover up personal information of plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses in line with the Personal Information Protection Act that was officially put into practice on Oct. 1, according to judicial sources.

Hsinchu District Prosecutors' Office, for instance, recently released indictments only upon request by reporters, with all the names, ages, and addresses of indicted defendants replaced by blank circles. The office used to automatically release stacks of indictment documents to reporters immediately after they've been made available.

An office spokesman said that in order to safeguard personal information from being leaked, all prosecutors' offices in Taiwan have started to implement related measures concerning how to publicize indictments in the form of press releases.

The measures, worked out by the Ministry of Justice at a meeting held one week earlier with prosecutors' offices, call for the ages and addresses of defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses involved in cases under investigation or in indictments to be concealed, with their surnames to be released but part of their given names to be replaced with blank circles. For example, the Chinese name of Lin Yi-shih, former secretary-general of the Cabinet, will be presented as “林O世”instead of “林益世.” Lin has been detained on charges of corruption for taking bribes.

Under the measures, the personal information of those in prosecution cases having nothing to do with public interests will not appear on the indictments, with only their surnames to be written on the documents at most.

Prosecutors will be allowed to release full personal information of those in prosecution cases to news media unless the release jeopardizes national security.

Nevertheless, a senior judge at Changhua District Court stressed that the Personal Information Protection Act cannot be played up unlimitedly; otherwise it will be tantamount to safeguarding criminals.

The judge said that as trial sessions are conducted openly at court, any ruling should be subject to public criticism and evaluation. Accordingly, he stressed, the content of the verdicts should be publicized along with the personal information of related parties in the cases.

The personal information defined in the aforementioned act includes: name, date of birth, I.D. number, passport number, characteristics, fingerprints, marital statuses, family members, education, occupation, medical record, genetic information, criminal record, contact information, financial condition, social activities and other information which may be used to identify a natural person, both directly and indirectly.

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