This article investigates the continuity and transformation of the personal identity and identification legal systems in Taiwan. From 1895 to 2015, Japan and subsequently the Republic of China (ROC) ruled Taiwan and transplanted different legal systems of personal information to Taiwan. This article analyzes how these systems were applied to and impacted Taiwanese society in three periods: the Japanese rule period (1895–1945), the period of strict control by the ROC government (1945–1992), and the rise and evolution of the privacy period (1993–2015). When Taiwan was ruled by the Qing Empire (1683–1895), there was no precise personal information database in Taiwan. After the Sino-Japanese War, in 1895 the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan to Japan, which spent a ten years using its police to conduct surveys to collect person information of all residents in Taiwan. Based on the survey results, Japan established a modern household registration system to govern legal identity and identification affairs in Taiwan. While this personal database facilitated the enforcement of public policies, the main purpose of the Japanese household registration system was to allow the police to closely monitor the residents in Taiwan. After World War II, the ROC government ruled Taiwan since 1945. Using the Japanese household registration records as a foundation, the ROC government was able to quickly construct its own household registration system. Moreover, in order to counter the threats of the Communist Party in Mainland China, the ROC government combined the household registration system with the police system and issued National Identification Cards (National ID Cards) for every Taiwanese adult citizen for mobilization and surveillance. The combination of the police and the household registration systems was in effect until 1992. However, advanced computer technology made fingerprint databases feasible, which posed new threats to privacy rights. In 1997, the ROC Legislative Yuan amended the Household Registration Act to establish a fingerprint database for strengthening social order. Article 8 of the amended act required all Taiwanese adults to provide their fingerprints when they renewed their National ID Cards. This requirement raised heated debates on the issue of whether the government’s collection of fingerprints intruded on right of privacy. Responding to such dispute, in 2005 the Constitutional Court struck down Article 8 of the Household Registration Act for violating individual privacy rights. The repeal of the Household Registration Act signified a landmark event for privacy protection in Taiwan. After about one hundred years of suppression and surveillance, the Taiwanese people ultimately become aware of the value of privacy rights. Yet, due to the threats of terrorism and advanced technology, Taiwan and other countries are facing concerns about the collection of information, improvement of national security, and protection of privacy rights. The Taiwanese people, as well as people around the world, must carefully seek to balance these competing interests.
Yung-hua Kuo & Po-liang Chen,
Identity Laws and Privacy Protection in a Modern State: The Legal History Concerning Personal Information in Taiwan (1895-2015),
25 Wash. Int’l L.J.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wilj/vol25/iss2/3