[FOUNTAIN]Eavesdropping: A very bad thingEmperor Yongzheng (1678-1735) of the Qing Dynasty of China was one of history’s most accomplished eavesdroppers. He is known as the one who has completed the history of dictatorship. Yongzheng, who had become emperor after fierce feuding with his 35 brothers, did not trust anyone. He planted secret agents in most of the important places.
He abolished the administration and instead used Junjichu, a government information agency, as the foundation of his governing. There were those around the country who said the emperor knew what even heaven did not know. When he caught someone, severe punishment followed. His surviving siblings were all executed for various reasons. When Yongzheng died, the people cheered.
J. Edgar Hoover spent 48 years as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was eavesdropping that allowed him to control the eight presidents under whom he served. Their personal weaknesses fell into Mr. Hoover’s hands, and they had no way out.
The president’s office was no exception when it came to Mr. Hoover’s eavesdropping. Presidents Kennedy and Nixon tried to displace him from his position, but failed. Mr. Hoover even roamed freely through the bedrooms of the White House. He used to brag about how he had sat face to face with presidents in their pajamas.
For Mr. Hoover, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an irritant. Using his entire wiretapping network he was finally able to catch Dr. King having an affair. But it was not Dr. King but Mr. Hoover’s reputation that was ruined when the tape was revealed. When the tape was made public, the citizens of the U.S. became disgusted with the FBI.
The word “eavesdropping” comes from overhearing the sounds of raindrops falling from the eaves. A society where the fields have eyes and the woods have ears is a distrustful society, in which everyone is suspicious and doubtful of each other. It is exactly like hell. That is why the Constitution grants us the right to privacy in our lives and correspondence.
Recently, a transcript of conversations surrepitiously recorded by a government agency has been causing a stir. The agents who were hired to maintain the security of the country and catch spies had planted wiretapping devices everywhere. Some agents even sold the tapes they had made. Catholic priests, on the other hand, keep the secrets of the confessional entirely to themselves. Though the ritual of the confession has changed over the years, not a single secret spoken in the confessional has ever been revealed. This is a key reason why the Catholic Church has lasted so long.
by Lee Chul-ho
The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.