Seoul defends web policy after critical report
Mar 17, 2010, 14:20 GMT
Seoul - South Korean internet policies were a necessary measure to protect citizens' rights online, an official said after a report criticized the policies for being 'repressive.'
The identity verification policy applied to some South Korean websites protects internet users against 'anonymous malicious web comments,' Lee Hye Lim from the internet safety division of the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) said this week.
The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders, which identifies countries they say obstruct free speech online, on Friday put South Korea in its 'under surveillance' category for its internet policies.
'Draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on Web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship,' the report said.
In South Korea, where 90 per cent of households have access to the world's best network infrastructure, web users who wish to comment or upload content onto sites with over 100,000 members must register under their real names and government identification numbers.
In some cases, users can choose to show only a pseudonym to other web users when posting comments or content, but only after registering their real identity with the website.
Sources at government agencies admitted Monday that the Reporters Without Borders list was a 'sensitive issue.'
The list, released under the title Enemies of the Internet, places South Korea among the dozen or so countries 'under surveillance,' whose internet policies they say give cause for concern, but do not yet warrant promotion to 'enemy of the internet,' a rank held by Myanmar, China and North Korea.
KISA's Lee said that the identity verification policy, criticized by the report, enabled the authorities to prosecute those who misuse the internet, with sometimes serious consequences.
'Malicious web comments such as defamation and groundless rumors can lead to social problems like suicide by minors and cyber violence,' Lee said.
One experienced online media professional agreed that the system does prevent some web misuse, but pointed out its weaknesses.
'First, this system does not guarantee the security of personal information,' Lee Sungkyu, a longtime blogger and chief editor of the blog network media company Tatter&Media, told the German Press Agency dpa Tuesday.
'Second, I think this system restricts free speech by individuals who wish to remain anonymous,' he added.
Lee from KISA said the system is designed both to protect freedom of expression on the internet, and prevent misuse such as cyber crime or defamation.
But some South Korean bloggers have been feeling the sharp end of government policies.
The Reporters Without Borders report cited the case of Minerva, a popular finance blogger who had predicted a sharp fall in the value of the Korean won and the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2007.
The blogger, whose real name is Park Dae Sung, was arrested in 2007 on charges of disseminating false information.
'Minerva is a representative case,' Lee from Tatter&Media said. 'A blogger who expresses a negative opinion toward the Korean government could suffer legal consequences.'
Referring to government-ordered deletion of Twitter accounts and other blogs operated by local media, he said, 'It is hard to say the Korean government has a positive image of bloggers and netizens.'
A fellow blogger in Korea, Robert Koehler, who operates the expat-oriented Marmot's Hole website, also criticized government policies in an entry about the Enemies of the Internet list.
'It's aggravating,' particularly considering the country's second-to-none internet infrastructure, he wrote Friday. 'It's kind of like reading news that Iran is suffering oil shortages. You scratch your head wondering how that's even possible, and yet here we are.'