ECC linked to Benesse data theft

Language school may have bought data on 75,000 high school kids


English conversation school operator ECC Corp. probably purchased some of the customer information stolen from Benesse Corp. to send junk mail to high school students, sources close to the matter said Friday.

The government, meanwhile, said it had suspended its English-language ability test for high school students, which had been outsourced to Benesse, Japan’s biggest provider of correspondence education courses for children. The firms is controlled by Benesse Holdings Inc.

“A personal information leak is intolerable. We will urge Benesse to carry out its business under strict information management,” education minister Hakubun Shimomura told a press conference.

In the latest sign that the stolen information may be making its way to other companies, ECC admitted buying information on 27,000 high school students that was likely owned by Benesse from a name list vendor.

Benesse Holdings said last week that personal information on at least 7.6 million customers had been leaked.

In buying the information, ECC asked the vendor whether it had been obtained in a fair manner, the company said. The vendor replied that it got the data by using official resident registry documents it had access to before Japan’s privacy protection law took effect.

According to the Osaka-based firm, between February and April it bought information on about 75,000 first- and second-year high school students residing in Osaka, Hyogo and Aichi prefectures for about ¥600,000.

ECC used the list to mail out some 66,000 advertisements for cram schools aimed at high school students between February and May.

An ECC official said the company does not have clear evidence the list it purchased was from Benesse and said it is ready to cooperate with the police if asked.

A 39-year-old systems engineer was arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing data on about 10 million customers from Benesse to sell it to name list traders.

Investigative sources said Friday that systems engineer Masaomi Matsuzaki, who was fired on July 10 from the agency he was temporarily working for, admitted that he illegally downloaded Benesse’s customer list.

“I copied the data onto my smartphone and took out the information,” Matsuzaki was quoted by the sources as saying.