Big Brother Internet Laws in Korea

big-brother-is-watching-you-postersRecently I’ve been reading some interesting news concerning the Internet (perhaps I should say concerning news interested in the Internet?) here in Korea.  Apparently, from April 1 of this year, the government has passed a new law to require all Internet users, bloggers,  and content uploaders to use their “real name” and government-issued ID numbers in order to post anything to Korean servers.  As this Korea Times article mentions, “Korea has now become one of the first democracies to aggressively use the law to hold Internet users and Web sites to account, and the revised copyright law represents the boldest step yet in this direction.”

PBS Frontline reports that this new system, or

“Cyber Defamation Law requires users to submit their real name and national ID card number when posting content on websites with over 100,000 unique visitors per day. The Korean government has promoted using real names on the Internet since 2002, but the system didn’t become law until 2005 when some polls showed between 73 and 87 percent of Koreans favoring the policy. Its main purpose is to prevent anonymous online slander and “cyber bullying,” which became a national issue with several celebrity suicides culminating with famous actress Choi Jin-sil, who killed herself apparently in reaction to online rumors about her.”

Obviously this new law will have some major implications for the huge Internet sites in Korea: like Daum, Naver, Cyworld, and Google.  I wonder how it will work with the Cyworld and Naver blog sites -> since Cyworld is like the Korean version of Facebook.  Will users have to verify their ID each time they want to post pictures or blogs?  Or will it just be a one time ID verification thing that the government then polices each time new content is uploaded?

Luckily for us however, we don’t have to worry about any of that when dealing with Google.  According to this article from the Korea Times, Google Korea (and YouTube Korea) has refused to (exactly) cooperate with the new “real ID” laws.  Instead,

Google blocked South Korean users from uploading videos and posting comments on YouTube’s Korean-language site in order to avoid government requirements for the real-name registration of users…

The new rules kicked in April 1, but Google had been refusing to enforce real-name verification for YouTube users, reluctant to bend its rules only for Korea…

“YouTube users will be allowed to watch videos and read comments as they always have, and will be able to embed (link) the videos to other sites,” Google Korea said on YouTube’s official Korean blog.

“The changes are only effective to YouTube’s Korean site, so users could post videos and comments by choosing a version of a different country.”

This being the case, it seems the new Internet laws in Korea will have much less effect on foreigners in Korea as the government cannot demand “real name” verification of all services on the Internet.  Therefore, since foreigners generally use non-Korean versions of these sites (Google, YouTube, blogging sites) anyway, most probably won’t notice a big difference.  But it just makes me wonder how Korean citizens will handle this new law and Google’s disabling of services from it’s sites.

Although this has probably been a long time in coming, it is interesting to note at least one other event in Korea’s recent Internet history leading up to this point: that being the hunt for and arrest of popular Korean blogger “Minerva” early this year.  According to this Korean Times article:

Minerva had garnered massive readership since last September, when he predicted the collapse of Lehman Brothers on an online bulletin board operated by Daum ( just five days before the investment bank went belly up.

The legend grew after the blogger accurately anticipated the sharp depreciation of the Korean won and the local stock market crash, and his 200 postings so far have gathered over 40 million hits.

This YouTube video is an interesting look at the “Minerva and freedom of speech” debate that is currently raging in Korea.  The Korea Times states that now many users are “flocking to foreign sites to avoid censorship” (i.e. use the English version of YouTube, not the Korean one).

The Korea Times also notes: “Park’s detainment is the latest example of the government’s inability to handle online criticism properly, with authorities going overboard in efforts to abate the rabble in cyberspace.”

And another Korea Times article says “it’s no fun joking about China anymore.”

“Maybe the Lee Myung-bak government is trying to lay the foundation for reunification, as Seoul and Pyongyang have never been so close politically and economically,” another deadpan industry insider said.

“There is no fun in joking about Pakistan and China anymore, when our own government seems to have a similar approach to Internet users.”

Ouch.  Luckily I’ve not had any really direct trouble with the apparent crackdown on Internet free speech yet, but it will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the next few months.  I have noticed however, a large increase in the number of “Police warnings” and blocked content on a few sites (i.e. from zero before to every once in a while now).

Just yesterday, I was having a debate with my class over the impeachment of Presidents and I wanted to find some information about the impeachment process in Korea (turns out former President Roh was impeached and released from office by a vote of 193-2).  However, one of the sites about the impeachment process in Korea I tried to access only brought up a nice bright blue Police warning screen that basically said, “The content you’ve tried to access is illegal.”  Hmm, I was just looking for some debate information.

Another thing I noticed just today when I was in StarBucks for a coffee.  StarBucks free wireless Internet is a lifesaver sometimes, especially when I forget some important information in my email.  I sat down with the computer to use StarBucks free service, and I encountered a login portal that required my “real name” and “foreigner registration number” in all capital letters with no spaces, just as it appears on my Foreigner Registration Card before it would grant me “free” access to the Internet.

I’m not sure if that’s normal for StarBucks in other countries of the world, but at least it reminds me of one other way the Korean government is using “real name verification” on the Internet to keep track of its citizens.

On Korea’s eBay-like site,, other online shopping sites, and on numerous game portals, users are required to enter their names and citizen ID numbers in order to use the services.  I need a Korean to help me purchase products in Korea from a Korean website, because I need their name and ID number (I couldn’t get my foreigner number to work, maybe I was doing it wrong -> all caps and no spaces perhaps).  But this has been going on for a while (I still remember asking my friend for his ID number so I could get online in a PC room to play the Sudden Attack FPS, three years ago).

What will the future hold?

What do you think? How will the new laws affect Koreans and foreigners in Korea? What about the rest of the world? I heard-tell that New Zealand and France may also be considering similar measures.  What does this mean for the future of the Internet as we know it? (Of course, if you’ve read some of my other posts, you may already be aware that Korea may not be the most up-to-date with their Internet in the first place).

Is Korea the new Internet-police-state?  My Internet “Big Brother”?

Further Reading

Free Speech in South Korea – Is the Internet a poison or a cure?

Korea’s Real Name System

Internet Users Flock to Foreign Sites to Avoid Censorship

“Upload a Song, Lose your Internet connection”

Korea fits itself for a “3 Strikes” jackboot

Minerva and Freedom of Speech (video)

Is Korea Turning Into Internet Police State?

Google Refuses to Bow to Government Pressure

Concerns Mount over Internet Witch Hunt

YouTube Users need Real Name


5 Responses to “Big Brother Internet Laws in Korea”

  1. Bill Vorhees Says:

    Interesting article. In many respects, I’m glad the government is taking these “precautionary measures.” Honestly, I have to disagree with your use of the term “freedom of Speech” in this context.

    Such freedoms don’t give a right for anyone to say anything they like. It does give people to have dissenting voices to policy and government. “Freedom of speech” also does not remove culpability from anyone who posts on the internet.

    I would agree with you that this is a form of censorship, but in the US, people have too much freedom, and in fact, abuse it in many respects.

    What the country is trying to do is protect the rights of individuals and organizations from libel, slander, and defamation. We have the same laws in our country, in different forms.

  2. jekkilekki Says:

    I agree that “freedom of speech” is often used in the wrong way to excuse any and all speech -> especially in America. I also agree that it is good to have a little censorship in order to keep things not only manageable, but also pleasant for the majority of the population. And I agree that the US has too much freedom and people do abuse those privileges (and often when they travel abroad, they expect much more than they receive).

    However, I just wonder if all of this reaction and law-making in South Korea is just over-reaction, or if it is indeed a necessary step to making the Internet a safer and healthier place. It still strikes me as odd that so many Koreans regard some Internet postings as the main (or one of the main) causes of suicide for more than one Korean celebrity (I’ve talked to many classes of students, and they always say that).

    It’s not as if the US is free of such slanderous remarks -> but we don’t have celebrities committing suicide because of them (or at least, after celebrity suicides, we don’t blame the Internet as one of the main causes that led to that event). I’m still not entirely sure if Korea is still a relatively young Internet culture (and they place far too much importance on the things said online) or if the culture is far too old and so saturated with the Internet that their day-to-day lives are truly affected by the things said and done online.

    I for one am not entirely opposed to the name and ID number thing (although it is inconvenient). I just hope the government doesn’t use that as an excuse to hunt down anyone who makes negative comments about the government. Then it really would be a stripping of freedoms and a more serious matter.

  3. Egg Donor Says:

    i like wireless internet because you can surf anywhere and you can avoid those ethernet cables -;~

  4. Real ID Sham Says:

    Korean internet laws are ridiculous. What you will end up having if you emulate the Korean system of identity verification in other socities would be a populace constantly afraid of saying the wrong things in fear of arrest. This severely hampers the capabilities of the internet which is a public forum for showing thoughts and expresing things freely without the fear of reprisal. Information dessimination would slow down resulting in less content accessible for people.
    How are foreigners supposed to join these Korean sites? It’s xenophobia at it’s finest. Not everyone has a Korean ID number or a foreigner one at that. From what I hear the foreigner ID number tends to not work and most foreigners are then left in the dark. They are unable to register for Korean e-mail, buy things online, pay bills online, and fully enjoy other such services because they simply are not considered by the Korean government and its internet affiliates. The fact that Koreans are mostly happy with this form of monitoring are a great example of a society that favors those who learn not to speak up from an early age. The education system in Korea and social structure is hierarchial in nature and students are taught that deference to authority is key. Slander and libel still continues to happen even with real-name verification such as the recent incident with Tablo, the Korean-Canadian rapper and hip-hop artist.
    People should be allowed some measure of privacy and having to post your entire “real” name along with what is the equivlaent of your social security number online is a great way to have your identity stolen as Korean internet tends to only use Internet explorer and makes use of activex plugins frequently.

  5. Review: Magic Tree (iOS) « Delta Attack Says:

    […] I understand, as this could be a holdover from some strict Korean laws regarding gaming and the Internet. It could also be Com2uS looking to curtail men scamming other men with female avatars. […]

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