Internet Under Surveillance 2004 - South Korea
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, Internet Under Surveillance 2004 - South Korea, 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46e69194c.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
- Population: 47,430,000
- Internet users: 29,220,000 (2003)
- Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 8 euros
- DAI*: 0.82
- Situation**: middling
The government filters the Internet to block access mainly to pornographic websites but also to those that "undermine law and order." The authorities are very sensitive to political opinions expressed online and punish Internet users who go beyond certain limits. But civil society has shown itself able to defend its rights.
South Korea is the world's fourth most connected-up country to the Internet, with more than 85 per cent of the population using e-mail, 23 per cent with broadband connections and nearly 40 per cent regularly buying goods online. The country thus serves as an important case study and testing-ground for Internet trends and the behaviour of users.
The government has heavily invested in the new medium but has also decided to police it. The authorities are especially strict about illegal content and individual freedoms take second place to efficient and security-minded public administration. But civil society is vigilant and energetic in defending its rights, as shown by the recent battle by teachers to keep their personal data private.
A filtered Internet
The country was one of the first in the world, in 1995, to pass a law to monitor the posting and reading of online material. The Information Communication Ethics Committee (ICEC) keeps a very close eye on the content of websites and discussion forums and can recommend that access to them be blocked.
The information and communication ministry called in July 2001 for access to be barred to 120,000 sites it considered offensive for dealing with pornography, violence, information about computer hacking, spreading viruses, cybercrime and euthanasia. The government asked for filters against them to be installed in cybercafés, schools and public libraries. ISPs faced prosecution if they did not install them too. The reason given was to protect young people from exposure to supposedly dangerous content.
In June 2002, the country's constitutional court struck down article 53 of the 1995 law, along with article 16 providing for its application, after criticism by the Internet freedom group Jinbonet and Lawyers for a Democratic Society. In November, parliament amended Article 53, replacing the term "dangerous content" with "illegal content." But the powers of the ICEC and the ministry to monitor and punish were upheld.
Censorship in 2003
Regular accounts are given of ICEC censorship activity and the latest, in December 2003, said 18,000 websites had been censored during the year out of 79,000 cases considered. Those censored included 14,131 for pornographic content, 278 for defamatory material and 3,400 for supposedly undermining law and order.
Two Internet users arrested for "communism"
Police arrested two communist activists, Kim Yong-Chan and Kim Jong Gon, on 11 July 2003 for possessing books about communism and for downloading from the Internet material including Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. They were accused of violating national security laws and are still being held without trial.
Tighter control at election-time
The government proposed a bill in late 2003 to force people posting election-related material on discussion groups to use their real names instead of pseudonyms. The Korea Internet Corporation Association (KICA) said the measure was unconstitutional and would prevent growth of a participatory democracy with the help of the Internet.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) and the police called in 16 March 2004 for the punishment of Internet users who posted messages criticising the parliamentary impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun. The NEC said they were violating the electoral law, which banned such material during the election campaign, and should be prosecuted, along with those who had passed it on. Thousands of Roh supporters forwarded such articles online.
Two students arrested
As a result of the NEC's March call, two students were arrested on 23 March for putting pictures online making fun of opposition members and were charged with "spreading false news" and violating the electoral law by posting pictures on websites other than their own and allowing other Internet users to download them.
Among the offending pictures posted by one of the students, who used the pseudonym Kwon, was a parody of a video game where the losing team was shown as members of the main opposition party, and an altered cartoon showing the party leader as a homeless person after losing the elections. The students were freed the next day but still remain to be tried.
Debate about NEIS
The education and human resources ministry has been trying since March 2003 to set up a National Education Information System (NEIS), a huge database of private information about students, their parents and their teachers. The archive, controlled by the government, has sparked fierce protests from human rights activists. It comprises personal and sensitive information, such as medical records, which are gathered without the person's consent.
The national human rights commission said in May that year the NEIS was an attack on individual privacy and called on the ministry to halt the project. The ministry said in June it would be continued. Three weeks later many national organisations, including the KTU teachers' union, announced a nationwide hunger-strike.
A compromise was reached and a computerisation committee, including representatives of teachers, parent-teacher associations and the authorities, approved the principle of an independent version of the NEIS in each school. The database idea was maintained, but the data will not leave the school without the head teacher's permission. This avoids the centralisation of all the confidential data and its use by the central government and the police.
- Information Communication Ethics Committee (ICEC) - www.icec.or.kr
- Ministry of information and communication - www.mic.go.kr
- The online daily Ohmynews - www.ohmynews.com
- The cyber-freedom defence - http://english.jinbo.net
* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).
** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.