Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
South Korea’s real name internet system: Future prospects of internet policy

A policy, so called “a real name internet system” has brought an extraordinarily controversial issue and generated a sharp division of opinions those who approve and disapprove the system. After creating such an antagonistic relationship between two groups of people for more than five years from 2007 to 2012, a real name internet system had been abolished by the ruling of the Constitutional Court of South Korea (hereafter “Korea”) in August 2012. Simply put, the Constitutional Court said that the system does not seem to have been beneficial to the public and the number of illegal or malicious postings online has not decreased despite the enforcement of the system.

Even though it is now put into an end, thorough re-examination and a social agreement on the issues are still required for a future consideration. Further, a fierce battle in regard to a real names internet system in the past implies that it will be uneasy to secure an effective internet policy which protects individual’s rights in freedom of expression and online privacy at the same time. Taking this account, it is crucial to explore various aspects of a real name policy and ruminate over the decision on unconstitutionality of such policy to prepare for a fast-changing internet environment.

The real name internet system actually has existed in Korea since 1998 under a name of ‘real-name communication system. It originally aimed to increase pay ability of subscribers and create a sound internet environment. However, tensions and conflicts between groups of people who have different views were not as actively expressed as later periods until 2003. Before a general election in 2004, a political reform committee passed a plan to include a revised bill that required a login system with one’s real name to prevent people from an illegal election campaign mainly consisted of maligned statements on candidates. This bill brought an effect of killing two birds with one stone by suppressing people’s rights of freedom of expression even for those who wanted express their opinions without malicious statements.

In 2005, it became exceedingly controversial again by “dog poop girl” case where a female dog owner was severely defamed and her personal information published throughout online websites without her consent because she did not clean her dog’s poop in a subway train. Moreover, there were documents files called “X-File” being circulated online that secretly revealed celebrities’ personal information which resulted in suicide cases of several celebrities. At the time, people strongly believed that getting rid of anonymity on the internet would solve such problems. Such social atmosphere led National Election Commission to enforce restrictive real name system on political postings and it got finally implemented on the 27th of July in 2007.

According to PhD? student‘s dissertation in journalism school at Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, she identified that the real name system did not have a notable impact on preventing such outcomes. She was not the only one that was making an argument. Ji-Sook Woo, a professor in School of Public Administration at Seoul National University discovered that the real name system rarely had an impact on decreasing the number of malicious postings. She indicated that the total number of malicious postings had decreased only by 1.7% while the total number of postings had decreased by 68% in 2009. In other words, the system was effective to shrink the traffic of online communication whereas it did not have direct impact on preventing people from creating malicious postings.

The studies and research mentioned above implied a crucial reason why it should have been abolished. As it suggested that the real name system was more effective to shrink a total number of communication rather than decreasing a number of malicious postings, it raised self-censorship mechanism issue. Joon-Il Lee, a law professor at Korea University said that the system caused a chilling effect that discouraged people to express their voice online and it led to a self-censorship. People who were with professor Lee’s side also argued that this self-censorship was mainly for people who held power like politicians and CEOs of conglomerates because the system enabled them to identify and punish these whistle blowers right away. This aspect of the system also threatened people by implying that they were under complete surveillance.

Even people who strongly supported the real name policy, they agreed that freedom of expression is enormously important and should be protected. Yet, they also argued that freedom of expression should accompany great responsibility. Those who supported the policy also said that freedom of expression is neither absolute nor unlimited. Then they continued to argue that freedom of anonymous expression should be limited too and be also punishable when people cross the line. At the same time, people believed that the real name system is especially necessary to make citizens more responsible for the cases when one invaded other’s rights with anonymous freedom expression.

The real-name system had brought a number of controversial issues for the past five years and got finally abolished by the Korean Constitutional Court’s ruling in 2012. During the past five years of a policy implementation, a number of victims had malicious postings, defamation, and invasion of privacy cases had not been decreased where necessity of creating a sound internet culture and future policy adoption had been heavily emphasized. With a fast changing environment, more key players should be involved in solving the problem to protect internet users and people in the real world rather than the government and gigantic conglomerates. Based on the review of the real-name system in terms of its policy and law, two principles are drawn, autonomy and consensus. Promoting self-imposed control and introducing conflict adjustment institution based on consensus between users can be good implementation strategies to start with.

So we have been provided with a utilitarian case against interfering with a fundamental right. The chilling effect of prohibiting anonymity has been empirically demonstrated. But prohibiting anonymity is wrong regardless of the degree of chilling effect, or the degree of harm prevented. If we could prevent lots of harm by surveilling everyone all the time, predicting their harmful conduct and stopping them, it would still be immoral to do.

So it's hard to know how to evaluate the importance of proof that when eaten, people don't taste good. Is that why eating people is wrong?

Since the real-name statute was tossed out, the South Korean net has remained the most surveilled and monitored net in a "free society" anywhere, and as recent efforts to prosecute satirists have shown, one where the State's commitment to freedom of speech is uncertain at best. Talking about decisions long since rendered distracts attention from what goes on now. Don't you think it would be more sensible to discuss the actual rather than the historical in this context?


Webs Webs

r3 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:44:50 - IanSullivan
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