Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
Real-name Internet System: Dark Side of the Internet Power

On October 2 2008, a famous Korean actress, Jinsil Choi committed suicide. After her suicide, all of the media reported that she have continuously suffered from malicious comments on the internet, blaming that she was responsible for private loan business which forced an actor whose name was Jaehwan Ahn, to commit suicide.

When high speed internet network became ubiquitous and information exchange became frequent, the reverse function of the internet, represented by groundless rumors, malicious comments and infringement on privacy, also became widespread. And this case provided a momentum to warn the public of the reverse function. All of the media kept saying that it was time to take an effective measures against the reverse function of the internet and it gave the new Korean government, which has seriously suffered from all kinds of criticism on the internet from the moment of its inauguration, a very good reason to strengthen or enact the measures which can restrain the criticisms on the internet: real-name internet system and cyber contempt crime. The real-name internet system is defined as a system forcing internet user to verify its real name and social security number before using it on the unlimited or limited basis. And the cyber contempt crime means contempt crime committed on the internet, which is penalized more severely than general contempt crime provided in the criminal law and can be prosecuted even without a victim's complaint, while the general contempt crime can be prosecuted only by a victim's complaint. The government and the ruling party, the Grand National Party("GNP") have kept trying to widen the current real-name internet system and to amend the criminal law to include the cyber contempt crime, but have faced a strong opposition of other parties and Non Governmental Organizations(NGOs) until now.

In fact, real-name internet system was already adopted in the legal system of Korea on the restricted basis in two acts. One was Public Office Election Act("POEA") and the other was Information and Communication Network Act("ICNA"). POEA adopted Section 82-6 on March 12, 2004 and ICNA adopted Section 44-5 on January 26, 2007.

First, section 82-6 of the POEA requires that internet media company shall arrange a real-name verification system provided by credit information vendor when it permit messages, audio, video or other information("Information") with respect to supporting or dissenting opinions for/against parties or candidates on bulletin board or chatting room of its webpage during the election campaign period. As a result, if a person wants to express his supporting or dissenting opinion of a candidate on a bulletin board during the campaign period, he shall enter his real name and social security number in the webpage, and shall be verified that the name and the social security number are genuine and matched each other, before he writes any opinion on the board. It was the first enactment of the real-name internet system under the specific situation - election.

And section 44-5 of the ICNA requires that the following service providers shall arrange the measures and procedures to verify the personalities of users, including official certification, in order to establish and manage the bulletin board: (i) government, local governments, public corporations, local public corporations and quasi-governmental organizations, (ii) information and communication service provider the average number of users of which was 100,000 a day during the previous 3 months of last month of the precedent year. This is so called "restricted real-name internet system" under the general situation.

Now, the government and the GNP want to widen the current scope of real-name internet system, while the opposition parties and the NGOs wanted to abolish even the current system.

As for the POEA provision, it can be evaluated to have more necessity and legitimacy under the specific and limited electoral situation, than the ICNA provision. This provision was first enacted for the purpose of preventing illegal campaign abusing anonymity, and it is true that this goal can be achieved to some extent through this measure. However, the real problem is that the provision does not have any effective measure to prevent abuse of the information by the government. A person who has an opposite or critical political opinion against the government or the ruling party can hesitate to express his opinion out of fear that the government or the ruling party can identify his personality and retaliate using skillful means. This situation can lead to serious distortion of public opinions on the internet bulletin board. In addition, even when a brave person posts criticisms against the government on the board, we cannot rule out the possibility that the government will store these record and keep an eye on the dissenter. From perspectives of citizens, they have to be dependent on good will of the government for using of these political information of the general citizens, believing that their government will never abuse those information for the sake of it.

The ICNA provision has caused even more serious problems. On April 9 2009, Youtube abolished the bulletin board of Korea in opposition to this provision, saying that anonymity is the spirit of the internet. As a result, only Korean users of Youtube were deprived of rights to write in anonymity and express their opinions, due to the real-name internet system. And on April 1 2010, following the Youtube,, a Korean IT media, abolished the comments function on the articles in opposition to the provision. On the same day, Korean government exempted Youtube from the list of websites where the real-name internet system shall apply, saying that the Korean domain of Youtube have disappeared and its domain was only located out of the country. Needless to say about serious infringement to the basic right of expression, this mindless provision forces a lot of Korean internet users and websites to leave the country in order to be liberated from the restriction. On April 14, Media Today, a internet media company of Korea, filed a constitutional complaint alleging that the real-name internet system under the ICNA disturbed a free opinion exchange between the media company and its readers and infringed the right of expression provided by the Constitution.

The real-name internet system is a legacy of old conception that internet should be controlled by the traditional or national virtue, for example, social security. This attempt is destined to fail, because the internet has become the worldwide feature that cannot be managed by a law of a single country. Frankly speaking, the battle for abolishment of the real-name internet system seems useless, because already we are living in the situation where we can be traced, watched over and controlled by the Big Brother even without the real-name internet system. However, the situation surrounding the real-name internet system in Korea is happening in reality, and this case can give valuable guidelines and lessons to the other countries considering to adopt this kind of the mindless system.

I appreciate your adding to this essay your interpretation of the material you present; the value of your comments shows why this is a necessary part of such an essay. It would be interesting to inquire, comparatively, whether reasons can be given why particular democratic societies have taken this approach: it is not obvious to me why South Korea and Italy, for example, would be countries in which this mania for eliminating Internet anonymity, which is the goal of secret police and listeners all over the globe, has gone the furthest. I can guess why anonymity might not be an important social value in Korea, but that's just my outsider's projection of what I think I know. I would appreciate more rather than less of your analysis here.


Webs Webs

r4 - 17 Jan 2012 - 17:48:28 - IanSullivan
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