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Right to privacy

July 22,2019
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KIM SUNG-TAK
The author is a London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had compared herself to a camel. Just as a camel can survive in the desert for several days without water, she can control sleep, she said. In an interview with Die Zeit last year, she said, “I can manage with very little sleep for five or six days at a stretch. Then I need a day again to get 10 or 12 hours’ good sleep.” Merkel is considered a leader who can pull a late night when engaging in summit diplomacy.

But in the past three weeks, she was seen shaking at three occasions, including at an event welcoming a foreign leader. The video of Merkel shaking and trying to cross her arms spread instantly. People around the world were surprised and worried about Merkel for her strong leadership.

At a press conference, Merkel said she was in good health and that while her condition was not over, she could fulfill her duty normally. She explained that the bouts of shaking were due to dehydration and heat. But there was an unconfirmed rumor that it could be related to a neurological issue. Political opponents used the health of the chancellor to come up with offensives.

It is noteworthy that 59 percent of Germans said that chancellor’s health was a private matter in an opinion poll. Only 39 percent demanded detailed medical records of the chancellor. Most major media wrote that anyone can criticize the chancellor as people have freedom of speech, but personal privacy is also important, and as long as Merkel was doing her job, it was not an issue.

Germany considers protection of privacy as a priority as the former Nazi government had access to personal information and used it for persecution. Politicians and public servants are under tight surveillance on reporting their earnings, but as long as their work is not affected, there is a consensus to protect people’s privacy. In Europe, the French court ruled that a magazine that reported an affair between former French President Francois Hollande and actress Julie Gayet should pay compensation for the violation of privacy.

When former British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson had an altercation with his girlfriend, police were called by neighbors. Despite political criticism, he is a promising candidate for the next prime minister.

In Korea, verification on public servants is frequently made for promotion and appointment. Whether there has been any corruption, wrongdoings or criminal acts and whether the candidate is qualified and competent needs to be strictly probed, but we need to draw a clear line between privacy and verification.