Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

YouTube? vs. South Korean Government: Real Name Verification System in South Korea and its Threat to the Freedom of Expression on the Internet

-- By MunKiNam - 01 May 2010

YouTube? Prevents its South Korean Subscribers from Uploading video files and Posting Comments

On April 10, 2009, Google removed video uploading and comment posting functions from YouTube? for South Korean subscribers. This is to avoid for YouTube? service to be subject to ‘Real Name Verification’ system stipulated in South Korean law, which requires service providers to register their subscribers’ real names to allow the subscribers to post articles on the internet.

This is the case that shows the problems of real name verification system of South Korea clearly. In this article, I will examine the problems of real name verification system and try to find a solution to the problems.

Real Name Verification System

The concept of real name verification is originated from the tradition that South Korean government compelled all citizens to register their personal information on governmental record. In 1960’s, South Korean government began to enforce resident registration system which gave resident registration numbers to all citizens of South Korea, and had them register their residences on public offices. While the resident registration number has a similar function to the social security number of the U.S., that can identify each individual, it can be used as a means to control citizens by compelling every citizen to be issued and accompanied by registration of residence.

The resident registration number has been broadly used in South Korea as a means of personal identification also in private sector. This tradition was passed down to the internet age, thus many service providers in South Korea required users to submit their resident registration number for subscription. However, as the importance of the privacy was being recognized by the public in South Korea, the problems of resident registration number system has been pointed out. Then, a movement occurred that opposed service providers’ practice to collect resident registration numbers when users subscribe to their websites, and several service providers expressed sympathy with such a movement.

However, the situation was reversed again when South Korean legislature enacted real name verification system.

The importance of Anonymity on the Internet

If the anonymity is not guaranteed, there will definitely be a chilling effect on free expressions on the internet. The real name verification system is an attempt to remove the anonymity from the internet, thus will be a fundamental threat to the freedom of expression on the internet.

The problem of non-existence of the anonymity is amplified by combination with subpoena. Under real name verification system, investigation agencies can collect by far more accurate personal information from service providers even without a search warrant.

In this situation, the freedom of expression in South Korea is being impaired significantly. Moreover, because a claim against the defamation on public officials can be established without proving actual malice in South Korea unlike in the U.S., real name verification system can be abused as a means to oppress the opponents. Therefore, above all, the freedom of expression on political issues is highly likely to be impaired.

Finding a Solution to Avoid Real Name Verification System Technologically

Recently, many South Korean internet users are attempting to avoid real name verification system, inspired by Google’s response. While Google prevented South Korean subscribers from uploading videos or posting comments, it allowed South Korean subscribers who change the country setting on Youtube site to other countries to upload and post even if the physical location of such subscribers is still in South Korea. South Korean government has not imposed any sanctions on Google so far. Many South Korean users who had used South Korean service providers began to use the services of foreign service providers, and this phenomenon is called as ‘Cyber Exile.’ On the surface, this situation can be viewed that traditional legal regime to limit the freedom of expression becoming useless due to new technologies.

However, i think this cannot be a fundamental solution. In 1990’s when the internet service began to be provided briskly, cyberspace was considered as an independent world which is not subject to the political power of the real world, but it became more apparent that this thinking was not correct because actual players who operate internet services are real entities existing in the real world, and they have no choice but to be regulated by the government of the real world. See Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu, Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of Borderless World, Oxford University Press, 2006. Regarding the case of YouTube? , the reason why South Korean government has not taken any measure is not that it is impossible, but that it is unnecessary in the current situation. If South Korean government intended to regulate Google’s conduct, it could do by taking measures on Google Korea. South Korean government just waits and sees the development of the matter because YouTube? ’s influence on South Korean society is very tiny at this moment, but if its influence grows bigger, it is likely that South Korean government will begin to regulate Google positively. Then, Google will not be able to avoid regulation unless it gives up its business in South Korea completely.


South Korea’s real name verification system impairs the freedom of expression on the internet by eliminating anonymity. It will probably fail to seek a solution to avoid the system in a technological way. After all, the only solution to resolve the problem of real name verification system is to abolish the law adopting the system. Currently, a lawsuit for invalidation of real name verification system on the ground of unconstitutionality is pending in Constitutional Court of South Korea. I hope that this authoritarian and dishonorable legal regime will be abolished as soon as possible.

# * Set ALLOWTOPICVIEW = TWikiAdminGroup, MunKiNam


Webs Webs

r3 - 17 Jan 2012 - 17:48:30 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM