[EDITORIALS]End private wiretappingThe private lives of citizens and their communications are dangerously open to eavesdropping. A JoongAng Ilbo reporter tested a program that could spy on online chatting and found that not only could the program allow people to read cyber conversations of logged-on users in real time, it also gave away the online users’ e-mail addresses. Also, with a broadband receiver worth just over a 1 million won ($986), conversations on household telephones as well as on police officers’ two-way radios could be intercepted.
A number of service centers across the nation advertise themselves as capable of examining phone conversation records and installing wiretapping equipment for anywhere between 1 million won and 3 million won. There have been actual cases where confidential information from companies was leaked through eavesdropping, and where blackmailing occurred regarding debt payments and extramarital affairs. During the last general election campaign, arrests were made on those who set up high-tech eavesdropping equipment in the home of an opposing candidate.
As proof that eavesdropping is widely available to the general public, Korea’s private security companies have taken a total of 6,000 requests for electronic eavesdropping since 2000. The recent acknowledgement by the National Intelligence Service that intercepting cell phone conversations is possible has only worsened the concern. That 3,000 counterfeit cell phones have been seized so far this year may have something to do with eavesdropping.
Despite this unsettling situation, eavesdropping through private establishments has been allowed to go on. Numerous pieces of equipment that require a license have been used illegally by private security companies. Such tools have been sold on the streets, but they have somehow been able to dodge the eyes of law enforcement.
Since the National Intelligence Service’s admission of their wiretapping activities, Korean citizens’ fear for their privacy has deepened. The situation calls for the government to show a willingness to eradicate eavesdropping by private organizations, and also to undergo overall systematic changes.
At this juncture, the government would do well to consider licensing private detectives through qualifying tests, and to review the Uri Party’s suggestion of a bill to authorize service centers to eavesdrop only with government permission.