[EDITORIALS]Big Brother is watching youIt appears that the National Intelligence Service and other investigative agencies have wiretapped telephones and reviewed telephone usage summaries much more frequently during the Roh Moo-hyun administration than in earlier ones.
According to the Ministry of Information and Communication, reviews of telephone calls jumped to over 167,000 last year, up more than a third from the number of such reviews a year earlier. Those summaries contain information on who called whom; from where and for how long. Wiretappings, direct interceptions of phone conversations, voice and text messages and e-mail, rose by about 11 percent to nearly 1,700 cases.
So doubts about freedom of communications are rising here despite the Roh administration’s pledge to protect communications privacy.
Under the Communication Privacy Protection Act, only the approval of a chief public prosecutor in a district prosecutors office is required for a review of call summaries. Wiretapping must be approved through a warrant from a judge. Call summary reviews are therefore much easier to justify, but even so, statistics from the Ministry of Information and Communication show cases where investigators did not present an approval from a chief public prosecutor. If a law-enforcement agency stubbornly demands call summaries, the phone companies are in no position to reject those demands, even though they are reportedly embarrassed because the law-enforcement agencies sometimes do not even send an approval form after the summaries have been provided.
With all these problems going on, the public cannot know when and how their privacy is being infringed upon. Recently it was revealed that the National Intelligence Service improperly reviewed a news reporter’s call summaries. That triggered complaints about infringement on the freedom of the press and privacy rights by the government. A few days ago, the Prosecutor General ordered a ban on reviews of summaries of calls from reporters’ cellular phones.
Intelligence and law-enforcement agencies must end these practices before public indignation causes political problems for the Roh administration.