The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] 'Korea strives to set global standards for data protection in generative AI era'

Seoul to host world's largest privacy gathering in 2025

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Nov. 28, 2023 - 15:46

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Ko Hak-soo, chairman of Korea’s Personal Information Protection Commission (Personal Information Protection Commission) Ko Hak-soo, chairman of Korea’s Personal Information Protection Commission (Personal Information Protection Commission)

With the rise of generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT, regulators across the world have started to establish rules and regulations on the technology. South Korea is also getting ready to come up with normative systems on the burgeoning AI that it hopes will serve as a benchmark for other countries, the nation's data protection watchdog chief said.

Although the European Union and the United States are so far leading the world in the push to regulate AI, Korea is receiving global attention as it seeks to balance the industry ecosystem and personal information protection, according to Ko Hak-soo, chairman of Korea's Personal Information Protection Commission.

"We will put our utmost effort to take the lead in setting AI guidelines to resolve legal uncertainty around the world," the PIPC chief told The Korea Herald in a recent interview. "We're willing to reflect industry-wide voices more than the EU."

According to the chairman, the EU has taken a comprehensive and risk-based approach to the technology, diverging from the US with a more decentralized approach focusing on specific applications of AI.

Ko thinks it is necessary for Korea to design its own AI regulatory strategies, different to the EU and US approaches, due to the country's distinct features.

"Korea is the country with one of the densest AI scaleup ecosystems in the world and home to IT giants, including Naver and Kakao," he said.

"We need to come up with more balanced normative systems while stepping up global cooperation in effectively responding to the technology."

Ko took office as head of the PIPC in October last year. He is the second chairman to lead the PIPC after its establishment as a central administrative agency in August 2020. Before taking the role, he served as a professor of law at Seoul National University with a primary focus on legal and policy aspects concerning data privacy and AI.

Last month, he joined the United Nations' high-level advisory body on AI as a member among 39 experts across the globe. Discussions on personal information protection in the AI sector are actively taking place in the UN privacy organization with Korea playing a key role in it, the chairman said.

"When it comes to discussions on domestic AI regulations, Korea is also not so lagging the EU and the US as it has been considering the AI sector for over five years," he said, touting the PIPC's "unrivaled position in Asia" to direct the national strategy for AI data.

Korea is set to host two global events -- a mini virtual summit as part of the global AI Safety Summit and the 47th Global Privacy Assembly -- within the next two years. Experts say they will be a big opportunity to secure a global leadership position in introducing universal guidelines on AI.

Korea will co-host a mini virtual summit with Britain, six months before the second annual AI Safety Summit, to assess the progress of the follow-up measures on facilitating global cooperation in the AI sector from the inaugural event taking place in the UK this month.

The announcement of the unanimous decision to choose Korea as host for the next Global Privacy Assembly meeting also came at this year's gathering in Bermuda last month.

The PIPC chief believes hosting the 2025 GPA meeting will raise Korea's awareness of AI and privacy and allow the state agency to introduce its role in protecting personal information to a wider audience.

The GPA is the world's largest global consultative body for privacy dialogues and collaboration for privacy and data protection with a total of 137 organizations from 89 countries, including Korea, the US, the EU and Japan.

According to Ko, it will mark the first time Korea hosts a global privacy meeting and the second time as an Asian member state.

“Like how we boasted our advanced AI technology and the readiness to introduce regulations to other member states (during the host selection presentation), we’re confident in hosting the general meeting tailored to global standards,” he said.