In passing a controversial amendment to the Computer-Processed Personal Data Protection Act (電腦保護個人資料處理法) on April 27, the legislature announced that media would be exempt from provisions making it obligatory to inform and seek consent from individuals before collecting and reporting personal information.
It was not my intention, as a member of the media, to test whether that exemption would apply when, on April 23, I sent a request for information to the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) seeking information on a top triad organization in Taiwan after being commissioned by a reputable British publication to write an article about it. Four days later, the CIB replied with the following:
有關請求提供 [...] 相關資料1案，因本案涉及個人資料保護，依據「電腦處理個人資料保護法」第8條之規定「公務機關對個人資料之利用，應於法令職掌必要範圍內為之，並與蒐集之特定目的相符。」及「政府資訊公開法」第18條第4款規定：「政府機關為實施監督、管理、檢（調）查、取締等業務，而取得或製作監督、管理、檢（調）查、取締對象之相關資料，應限制公開或不予提供之。」，故無法提供 [...] 相關資料，尚請見諒!謝謝來信，敬祝安康!
Roughly translated, the CIB’s response reads as follows:
This is in reply to your message, dated April 23, 2010, sent to the Criminal Investigation Bureau:
As this case involves the protection of personal data, in accordance with Article 8 of the Computer-Processed Personal Data Protection Act (電腦保護個人資料處理法), we are unable to provide you with information on the [deleted by me] … Article 18, paragraph 4, states: “Unless for a specific purpose and satisfying any of the following requirements,* a non-government organization should not collect or process by computer personal data.”
* Exceptions as stipulated in the Act:
1. Upon written consent from the party concerned;
2. Having a contractual or quasi-contractual relationship with the party concerned and
having no potential harm to be done to the party concerned;
3. Such personal data is already in public domain and having no harm to the major
interest of the party concerned;
4. For purpose of academic research and having no harm to the major interest of the
party concerned; or
5. Specifically provided by the relevant laws in Article 3(7) ii and other laws.
The fact that, in my query, I clearly identified myself as a member of the media, both as a reporter for the Taipei Times and for the British organization (which I named in my e-mail), and provided my address and phone number at work was insufficient for the CIB to give me the information that I sought. Now, the amendment that cleared the legislative floor on April 27 stipulates that non-governmental organizations or individuals are allowed to search and collect generally accessible data about individuals when acting in the “public interest.” In other words, Netizens who launch a campaign to identify individuals involved in violations such as animal abuse would not be considered violators.
I find it difficult to understand how a report on a major criminal syndicate operating in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and the Western coast of the United States would not be in the ill-defined “public interest,” or how it would be permissible to collect information on someone who abuses animals, but not so about individuals who engage in drug and human trafficking, among other crimes.
Clearly, the media exemptions do not apply, or someone is trying to protect the triads, which wouldn’t be surprising, given the close relationship between government officials and crime syndicates in Taiwan.