Recently 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 (www.daum.net) 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, auction.co.kr, 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”?