By Kim Rahn
Seoul City is planning to check every taxi driver to see whether they have a criminal record by next year as part of measures to protect passengers from crimes committed by cabbies.
The plan, however, may bring controversy over human rights infringements, because drivers claim that the step treats all of them as potential criminals.
Officials of the city government said Monday they are talking with police to see whether cabbies in the capital were previously convicted of certain felonies in order to cancel their licenses.
“We used to check the records when a driver newly obtains a license, but we plan to expand the monitoring to all drivers who obtained the license long ago, following the revision of the related law,” a city official said.
The revised law, which took effect on Aug. 2, bans a former convict from driving taxis for 20 years after their release from prison ― a huge extension from the previous two years. On the list of felonies subject to the ban, child molestation was added to murder, drug use, burglary and sexual offenses.
The city has asked police for the criminal records of all cabbies. It has issued taxi driver licenses to a total of 443,000 people, both individuals and workers of taxi companies, while some 89,000 are currently working as cabbies.
“The rest have quit driving taxis and are engaged in different industries now but they can return to driving taxis because the license doesn’t expire. We first plan to monitor the 89,000 by next year and may expand the inquiries to all 443,000 afterward,” the official said.
But police said the monitoring is only available for drivers who obtained a license after the revised law’s implementation. “As there are different opinions on whether we can look into criminal records of people who obtained the license 20 years ago, we’ve asked the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs for an authoritative interpretation,” he said.
Taxi drivers have protested the plan, which they claim infringes on their human rights and is not a fundamental solution to prevent crime.
“Most cabbies committing crimes are those who illegally drive taxis after making unofficial contracts with taxi firms or individual drivers, and some of them don’t even have a taxi driver’s license. The city government should rather take action to root out such illegal practices,” a member of a taxi drivers’ labor union said.
“Most taxi drivers provide services despite everyday risks of violence from drunken passengers or theft. It is improper to regard them as potential criminals,” he said.
The city official said, “It is a measure to prevent former convicts from driving taxis to reduce citizens’ anxiety.”