Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

South Korea Could Be Showing Us A Sneak Peak Into Our Future

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 15, 2009

Lately, I've been writing about the new laws in South Korea that impose requirements on web sites to verify the real names of users. It was an issue that hadn't been reported much by the US media until just this week. And there is lots more Korean legislation in the pipeline that is jaw dropping in its ambitions to use the Internet and mobile phone technologies to monitor Korean citizens.

For example, the government is trying to pass a bill that would give Korea's spy agency real-time monitoring of all Internet and mobile communications, and real-time access to every cell phone's GPS location data.

The government says measures like these are needed for a variety of reasons. Critics of the measures see a government hitting back in retaliation because of several embarrasing online incidents. Such as the bungled prosecution of a blogger over his economic predictions.

The Korean people have a strong culture of fighting injustice and the excesses of government. It's a culture that readily takes to the streets in demonstrations and protests. And not surprisingly, this is reflected in its online communities, where there is a sophisticated society of Internet users using their online skills to organize resistance to government policies.

To fight back, and to try to dampen the spirit of its digital opposition, the government has passed laws such as the one that requires web sites to verify the real name of any Korean citizen, before allowing them to upload files or leave comments. And it is seeking even greater powers of regulation.

These are interesting developments because they could very well be providing us with a sneak preview into our future. South Korea is several years ahead of the US in terms of how much time its population spends online and its relatively long history of access to high speed Internet services.

The Koreans are dealing with many issues that result from living in a society that lives far more in an online world than we do. It will take the US several years to catch up.  

Hopefully, the Koreans can figure out how to deal with Big Brother governments and other societal issues, before we get to the same stage.

. . .

Please see:

The Korea Times: Is Korea Turning Into Internet Police State?

"According to the draft, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the country's spy agency, gets expanded surveillance power that allows real-time interception of mobile phone and Internet communication, compared to current law that limits monitoring to fixed-line telephone calls.

All communication operators, including telephony carriers and Internet companies, will be required to operate surveillance equipment and save call recordings and log-on records of their users.

The bill also enables law enforcement authorities to collect and monitor location-based information, or Global Positioning System (GPS) records, of civilians. Considering that GPS capabilities are increasingly included in the latest mobile phones and portable Internet devices, a fast-growing number of people would be susceptible to investigators tracking their real-time movements..."

The Hankyoreh: "[Analysis] Google chooses its credibility over profit in South Korea

"Some analysts have suggested that it would be too burdensome for Google to challenge South Korea’s Internet policies because the government had promised 1.2 billion won (911,200 dollars) in research and development support, and the possibility of more through online advertising business."

Korean Presidential Office Bypasses Real Name Law - Posts Videos On Foreign YouTube

"Google managed to avoid this law by disabling uploads and comments on its Korean version of YouTube, while at the same time telling people that they could continue anonymous uploads and commentary by accessing other countries' YouTube sites.

It seems that this is the preferred method for the Presidential office of South Korea, the Cheong Wa Dae.

The Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh reports that the Presidential office, of South Korea, the Cheong Wa Dae, has been using this loophole to post PR videos of President Lee Myung-bak."

Google Tests The Limits Of Governments - Bars Korean Users From Uploading Videos And Leaving Comments

"Rachel Whetstone, vice president of Global Communications & Public Affairs at Google, offered in a statement posted on Google Korea's Website the reason why the company has refused to comply to the real-name system. In a statement titled, "Freedom of Expression on the Internet," Whetstone said, "Google thinks the freedom of expression is most important value to uphold on the internet." Whetstone continued to say, "We concluded in the end that it is impossible to provide benefits to internet users while observing this country's law because the law does not fall in line with Google's principles.""

Updated: Google Says It Is Still Examining Korea's Real-Name Verification Law

"Google wouldn't have much to lose if it stood up to the Korean government. It's YouTube business isn't profitable, so no shareholders would be hurt. It could argue that its servers aren't housed in South Korea and therefore it doesn't have to comply with the local law.It would be a bold statement and it would focus world attention on the South Korean government and its efforts to curb its citizens from using the Internet to criticize politicians. A bold stand from Google might even discourage other governments from following with similar laws."

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