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[EDITORIALS]Rein in online anonymity

June 30,2005
Saying that people have to take responsibility for their actions even in cyberspace, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan has announced that the government will introduce a system requiring Internet users to use their real names. “It will be possible to search for information or play games anonymously, but it is a problem when people criticize or in ‘flame’ others while in hiding,” he said. He also said that it is not right to exercise freedom of expression without taking responsibility for it.
We agree with Mr. Lee to a considerable degree. Character defamation on the Internet has reached a point where we cannot simply watch and do nothing. For example, a woman’s photo was widely circulated after she failed to clean up after her dog on the subway. Some victims of harassment have even killed themselves. These are witch hunts, driven by a lynch-mob mentality.
Some civic groups and Internet companies are opposing the introduction of the “real name” system. They insist that it is a very dangerous idea, because it means everyday people will be monitored as though they were criminals. Others warn that there could be serious unintended consequences, such as the theft of residential registration numbers, which are key to the system.
But the threat to privacy can be prevented by developing a system that can verify a user’s identity by means other than the residential registration number. At any rate, it is in the basic spirit of the Constitution that the rights of victims deserve protection as much as people’s freedom of expression does.
We have expected “netizens” to clean up the Internet voluntarily. Attempts to introduce the real name system on the Internet have failed several times. But now, even netizens want the system. On recent online surveys conducted by Internet portal sites, 57 to 79 percent of respondents welcomed the real name system, while fewer than 30 percent were opposed.
The Internet has become an inseparable part of life. It is hard to even list all of its benefits. But for the sake of its future, its negative side effects should be curtailed as much as possible. The Internet must no longer be used as a deadly weapon. History tells us that the laissez-faire approach never has good results.


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