Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
[Ready for Review]

Issues Surrounding Internet “Real-Name” System in Korea

-- By WookJinRha - 27 Apr 2010

I. Adoption of Internet “Real-Name” System (IRNS)

    In July 2007, Korea made amendment to “Promotion of Information Communication Network Utilization and User Protection Act” to require certain websites that have more than certain visitors to verify their users’ “real-name” when operating message boards. In such sites, users had to have their real-name verified to post articles or comments on message board.
    In its enactment in 2007, the Act applied to portal service sites and user-made digital content sharing sites that have average of more than 300,000 visitors a day, and internet press sites with more than 200,000 visitors a day. This was changed in January 2009 to apply to all websites that have more than 100,000 visitors a day. See amendments to Executive Rule to the Act Article 30.
    Currently in April 2010, the number of websites that are subject to the IRNS are 167. The need for its wider application was triggered by the suicide of one of the most celebrated Korean actresses in October 2008. She was known to have been suffering from major depressive disorder from the internet rumors that she was a loan-shark and responsible for the suicide of her fellow actor in September 2008.
    The IRNS was adopted for the purpose of promoting transparent, clear communication, solving the adverse effects of anonymity in the internet.

II. The Scope of IRNS

1. YouTube’s Escape from IRNS

    In April 2009 as the result of the amendment that widened the application of the IRNS, Korean government included YouTube Korea( in the list of sites that the IRNS apply. Google which operated YouTube Korea objected to this and took voluntary measure of shutting down its online bulletin board-type functions. Later, Google closed down YouTube Korea and incorporated it into’s Korean language service.
    In this month, Korea Communications Commission removed YouTube from the list, reason being the server and the operator are both located outside Korea. YouTube got out of the jurisdiction of Korean law and avoided the IRNS.

2. Twitter Trackback as an alternative

    Korea Communications Commission previously decided that Twitter is not subject to the IRNS since it is personal network and also foreign-based service. Some Korean websites which are subject to the IRNS have shut down its message boards and instead noticed users to use Twitter trackback as an alternative.

III. Discussions Surrounding IRNS

    People who support the IRNS claim that immense transmitting and circulating power of the internet often leads to undeserving defamation or insult that could cause irrecoverable damages. Therefore tightened measure on the internet is inevitable and justified. It asserts that the constitutional right of freedom of expression is not absolute or unlimited freedom and there could be some restrictions imposed on it.
    On the other hand, people who object to the IRNS claim that the assumption that anonymity is the basis for slander and abusive language in the internet is fundamentally wrong. The government is just trying to eliminate anonymity in order to increase control and surveillance in the internet. Free sharing and communicating environment in the internet will be severely damaged due to the IRNS. National Assembly Research Service stated in its report regarding the IRNS that it will destroy the freedom of expression and free discussion culture in the internet, and it is more desirable to maintain openness and anonymity rather than regulating it with law. see Issues on Internet Real Name System, National Assembly Research Service Report Volume 3 (2008) The report also indicated that major countries including OECD countries with exception of China, do not have regulations regarding internet message boards and consider freedom of anonymous expression important.
    The law regarding the IRNS is currently under review in the Constitutional Court of Korea. In relation to this, early this year the Court decided that a law which required the IRNS for all election related articles or comments in website message boards during election campaign period is not unconstitutional.

IV. Issues to be Resolved

    Besides the general deprivation of freedom of expression and anonymity right, below elaborates on more specific issues that need to be resolved.

1. Ineffectiveness of IRNS

    Websites operated abroad cannot be regulated by Korean law, making the IRNS law unrealistic. Ironically, Twitter which its ripple effect is more powerful than conventional internet message board is not subject to the IRNS, which make the IRNS more ineffective. In addition, everyone could feel some kind of pressure due to the IRNS, yet people have many ways to avert this to conceal themselves.

2. Reverse Discrimination of IRNS

    The IRNS is awkwardly applied that there is lack of universality. Before determining whether the IRNS itself is justifiable, the law should be universally applied within the jurisdiction and yet its domestic application disfavors only domestic websites, providing great advantage to foreign websites.
    As YouTube emerged as the number one video service provider in Korea, many people see this as the result of the IRNS on domestic websites. Domestic video service providers are faced with rapid decrease in user activities since adoption of the IRNS. Domestic websites are claiming that those who follow domestic law should not be reversely discriminated. Furthermore, they are requesting the government to lower the regulation back to global standard.

3. Inadequacy in Verifying Real Name - Citizen Registration Number

    The method of identifying real name is based on “Citizen Registration Number (CRN)” which is issued by the Korean government to Korean citizens. CRN is considered private information, and whether private websites should be allowed to collect, store and manage this information is a problem.
    There are many reports indicating that CRN information of whole Korean citizens have been leaked and are being sold online at a low price. If this is true, identification process of the IRNS is inadequate and should be replaced by some other verification method, such as digital certificate that is used in internet banking.

V. Conclusion

    The universe of internet is moving to the direction where it cannot be controlled by the government. Instead of endeavoring to expand method and range of the restriction, we should try to understand characteristics of the internet and impose minimum restriction. Policy regarding the internet cannot be based on traditional concept, but rather should be based on new understanding of the technology, principles, environment, and people’s behavior within the internet.


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r4 - 17 Jan 2012 - 17:48:30 - IanSullivan
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