|National Police Agency headquarters / Korea Times file|
By Lee Hyo-jin
The police have launched a full investigation into disinformation about COVID-19 cases and misuse of private data collected on visitor registers, according to the National Police Agency, Sunday.
"We are closely monitoring illicit activities on distribution of false information online in cooperation with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). We plan to track down not only the initial source of the disinformation, but also all the suspects involved in the distribution," an NPA official said.
The authorities have recently received reports on disinformation about COVID-19 infections circulating online in the form of urgent messages shared between employees at a medical institution.
Some of the messages read, "COVID-19 update: 412 confirmed cases as of 6 p.m., Nov. 18," "852 confirmed local cases as of 11 p.m., Nov. 18," all of which were false. They even included incorrect tracing data of confirmed patients in Sinchon, western Seoul.
As the content was soon widely spread across social media, the NPA designated Seodaemun Police Station, the district where the medical institution is located, to trace the source of the disinformation.
In addition, the authorities have threatened stern measures against illegal trading of personal data collected on visitor registers at multi-use facilities such as eateries, cafes and bars.
Under the government's social distancing measures, all visitors must provide their personal details including time of visit, phone number and brief address through either a quick response (QR) code-based system or a handwritten form.
Following several local media reports that the customers' personal data on the registers was being illegally traded online, the police have launched an investigation.
"Chungnam Provincial Police Agency has obtained relevant evidence on the illegal trading of data and it will expedite the investigation by requesting a warrant for search and seizure," an NPA official said.
The police said that they are currently cooperating with related authorities such as the Korea Communications Standards Commissions and the Central Disaster Safety and Countermeasures Headquarters to block misuse of personal data.
Meanwhile, the authorities added that as of Nov. 20, they have arrested 204 suspects for allegedly distributing false information on COVID-19, and another 65 on allegations of mishandling personal data.