Internet censorship in South Korea
A visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet.
Internet censorship in South Korea has been categorized as "pervasive" in the conflict/security area, and also present in the social area. Categories of censorship include "subversive communication", "materials harmful to minors", and "pornography and nudity". Internet censorship has been expressed by the shutting down of anti-conscription and gay and lesbian websites, the arrest of activists from North Korea-sympathetic parties, and the deletion of blog posts by writers who criticize the South Korean president. Censors particularly target anonymous fora; South Koreans who publish content on the Internet are required by law to verify their identity with their citizen identity number. The most common form of censorship at present involves ordering internet service providers to block the IP address of disfavored websites. A government agency announced the planning of new systems of pre-censorship of controversial material in the future.
The nation of South Korea is a world leader in Internet and broadband penetration, but its citizens do not have access to free and unfiltered Internet. According to Michael Breen, censorship in South Korea is rooted in the South Korean government's historical tendency to see themselves as "the benevolent parent of the masses". However, anonymity on the internet has undermined the system of Korean honorifics and social hierarchies, making it easier for South Koreans to subject political leaders to "humiliation".
South Korea's government maintains a broad-ranging approach toward the regulation of specific online content and imposes a substantial level of censorship on election-related discourse and on a large number of websites that the government deems subversive or socially harmful. Such policies are particularly pronounced with regard to anonymity on the Internet. The OpenNet Initiative classifies Internet censorship in South Korea as pervasive in the conflict/security area, as selective in the social area, and found no evidence of filtering in the political and Internet tools areas. In 2011 South Korea was included on Reporters Without Borders list of countries Under Surveillance. This designation persisted in 2012, where the report suggests South Korea's censorship is similar to those of Russia and Egypt.
During the military dictatorships of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan (1961-1987), anti-government speech was frequently suppressed with reference to the National Security Act (NSA, 1948) and the Basic Press Law (1980). Although the Basic Press Law was abolished in 1987, the NSA remains in effect. The government has used other "dictatorship-era" laws in order to prosecute critics in contemporary contexts; for example a law against the spreading of "false rumors" was used to charge a teenage protestor during the 2008 US beef protest in South Korea.
According to the Telecommunication Business Law, three government agencies in South Korea have responsibility for Internet surveillance and censorship: the Broadcasting Regulation Committee, the Korea Media Rating Board, and the Korea Internet Safety Commission (KISCOM, 2005). KISCOM censors the Internet through orders to internet service providers to block access to "subversive communication", "materials harmful to minors", "cyber defamation", "sexual violence", "cyber stalking", and "pornography and nudity". Regulators have blocked or removed 15,000 Internet posts in 2008, and over 53,000 in 2011.
Freedom to criticize government leaders, policies, and the military is limited to the extent that it "endangers national security" or is considered by censors to be "cyber defamation". The government has cited "character assassinations and suicides caused by excessive insults, [and] the spreading of false rumors and defamation" to justify its censorship.
In May 2002, KISCOM shut down the anti-conscription website non-serviam on the grounds that it "denied the legitimacy" of the South Korean military. The Navy of South Korea accused an activist of criminal libel when he criticized plans to build a controversial naval base in the country.
The government has deleted the Twitter account of a user who cursed the president, and a judge who wrote critically about the President's Internet censorship policies was fired. In 2010, the Prime Minister's Office authorized surveillance on a civilian who satirized President Lee Myung-bak.
In 2007, numerous bloggers were censored and their posts deleted by police for expressing criticism of, or even support for, presidential candidates. This even lead to some bloggers being arrested by the police. Subsequently in 2008, just before a new presidential election, new legislation that required all major Internet portal sites to require identity verification of their users was put into effect. This applies to all users who add any publicly viewable content. For example, to post a comment on a news article, a user registration and citizen identity number verification is required. For foreigners who do not have such numbers, a copy of passport must be faxed and verified. Although this law was initially met with public outcry, as of 2008, most of the major portals, including Daum, Naver, Nate, and Yahoo Korea, enforce such verification before the user can post any material that is publicly viewable. Youtube refused to conform to the law, instead opting to disable the commenting feature on its Korean site.
Discussion about North Korea
Also, South Korea has banned at least 31 sites considered sympathetic to North Korea through the use of IP blocking. Most North Korean websites are hosted overseas in the United States, Japan and China. Critics say that the only practical way of blocking a webpage is by denying its IP address, and since many of the North Korean sites are hosted on large servers together with hundreds of other sites, the impact on the number of real blocked pages increase significantly. Estimates are that over 3,000 additional webpages are rendered inaccessible.
In September 2004, North Korea launched the Kim Il-sung Open University website,
www.ournation-school.com. Only three days later, Internet providers in South Korea were ordered by the National Police Agency, National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) to block connections to the site, as well as more than 30 others, including Minjok Tongshin, Choson Sinbo, Chosun Music, North Korea Info Bank, DPRK Stamp and Uriminzokkiri.
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak's year 2011 policies include cracking down on pro-North Korean comments on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter. Reporters Without Borders noted that the government "has intensified" its campaign to censor pro-North Korea material in 2012, as well.
Nudity and obscenity
KISCOM censors websites under its category of "obscenity and perversion"; for example, it shut down the website ex-zone, a website about gay and lesbian issues, in 2001. Since 2008 attempts by anybody to access "indecent Internet sites" unrated games, pornography, gambling, etc., are automatically redirected to the warning page showing "This site is legally blocked by the government regulations."
Search engines are required to verify age for some keywords deemed inappropriate for minors. For such keywords, age verification using national identity number is required. For foreigners, a copy of passport must be faxed to verify the age. As of 2008, practically all large search engine companies in South Korea, including foreign-owned companies (e.g. Yahoo! Korea), have complied with this legislation. In April 2009 when the Communication Commission ordered user verification be put on the system at YouTube, Google Korea blocked video uploading from users whose country setting is Korean. In September 2012, Google reenabled YouTube uploads in Korea following a three-year block.
On December 21, 2010, the Korea Communications Commission announced that it is planning to create a guideline about monitoring the Internet content in case of a tense political situation; automatically deleting any online anti-governmental message that could lead to internet censorship.
The 2009 modification of the copyright law of South Korea introducing the three strikes policy has generated a number of criticism, including those with regards to the Internet freedoms and censorship. Tens of thousands of Korean Internet users have been disconnected from the Internet after not three, but one strike.
On September 6, 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized the Korea Communications Standards Commission for proposing censorship and restriction on a blog of an Internet free speech activist, Dr. Gyeong-sin Park. The United Nations Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression warned South Korea's government about its censorship, noting among other things that South Korea's defamation laws are often used to punish statements "that are true and are in the public interest".
Korean officials' rhetoric about censored material, including that it is "subversive", "illegal", "harmful" or related to "pornography and nudity", has been noted as similar to that of their Chinese counterparts. Critics also say that the government takes prohibitions on profanity as "a convenient excuse to silence critics" and chill speech.
South Korean conservative media outlets loyal to the Lee Myung-bak government are alleged of advocating further Internet censorship, because the Internet is the main source of information for progressive South Korean youths.
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