[EDITORIALS]Come clean on phone taps

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[EDITORIALS]Come clean on phone taps

How much more does the public have to worry about having phone conversations bugged? Privacy of communication is a basic right protected by the constitution. A law ensures that the right will be compromised only under special circumstances within a careful set of guidelines. But public concern remains unabated because of the government’s persistently ambiguous response to questions about possible violations.
The government has said repeatedly that it is not tapping phone conversations. It said cellular phones used in Korea operate on the code division multiple access technology, or CDMA, which inherently shuts out bugging. What perpetuates suspicion is the government’s contradictory behavior that appears to presume bugging is not only possible but is also now being carried out.
During a National Assembly Telecommunications Committee meeting yesterday, Grand National Party members said mobile phone manufacturers had developed tapping-proof handsets but the plan to make them commercially available was thwarted by the National Intelligence Service. The intelligence agency’s logic was that it would not be able to monitor “the impure elements in society” without access to telephone signals, the lawmakers said.
The assertion means that the cellular phones now in use can be tapped and the National Intelligence Agency has the technology and equipment to do it.
Minister of Information and Communication Chin Dae-je’s response to the allegation yesterday was pathetic. “I have no further information,” he said. “At least I don’t use the tapping-proof device.” He somehow managed to deepen the suspicion.
During a previous Assembly session, tapping of cellular phone conversations was found technically possible, albeit in a narrow range of conditions. Of course, a special national security condition exists on the peninsula that allows for limited cases of phone tapping. But those activities must be limited strictly by law. The government must come clean about what is possible and what it intends to do about it.
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