[OUTLOOK]Reveal all, except for the tapes

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[OUTLOOK]Reveal all, except for the tapes

I must admit that I’m curious. Curious about the contents of the 274 tapes, secretly recorded by the nation’s intelligence service, that have been confiscated by the prosecution. The desire to hear the juicy contents of those tapes is only human.
But what if it were my secrets on one of those tapes? What if I had been caught on tape talking about my wife behind her back, insulting my friends and slandering my boss and my company? What if the tape revealed a dark side of me that my children shouldn’t know about? And what if the contents were revealed to the whole world? The thought is enough to make my head swim.
That is the most important reason why, however curious people may be, the tapes should just be left covered up. The solution becomes apparent when we imagine the exposure as our own. To expose or investigate the contents of the tapes would ultimately be to acknowledge and justify illegal wiretapping. And the bigger the social profits from the investigations and exposures are, the bigger the temptations for illegal wiretapping become.
We cannot become a “1984”-style surveillance society under the guise of creating a clean society. Just as fish can’t live in absolutely clean water, people in a surveillance society have to give up their privacy. A state power that listens to personal conversations and uses them for political maneuvering commits an obliterating sin against humanity. It should not be permitted. Illegal tapping is a vestige of dictatorships that should be eradicated. That should be the first task in our effort to clean up the past.
The president promised “eradication,” and the prosecution and the National Intelligence Service have started investigations, so we should wait and see. But for some unknown reasons, these institutions do not seem entirely reliable. The people felt totally lost when they learned that eavesdropping by government agencies had continued during the presidencies of both Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam, who had claimed that they themselves were the biggest victims of wiretapping and criticized it as a heinous crime. Can we trust the promises being made today?
The recent maneuvering within the governing party’s camp, brought to light by the hospitalization of Kim Dae-jung, casts even more suspicion on its will to eradicate wiretapping. Whether or not Kim Dae-jung knew about it, if wiretapping took place during his time in office, there should be explanations and apologies first. But all we hear is vague assurances that the former president probably did not know about it.
If the government is going to be hesitant, studying the mood of certain regions because it is conscious of its votes, it might as well just stop the investigation now. It would be meaningless to gloss over this matter at the expense of a few scapegoats. If Kim Dae-jung really did not know about the eavesdropping, and if it was committed by low-level agents as a routine practice, more thorough investigations should be conducted to prove this.
A society free of illegal wiretapping: That is a task for our age, and a mountain that we have to overcome to restore confidence in the state, which has fallen to the ground. To accomplish this, we first have to expose all illegal wiretapping committed by previous administrations. Details such as when it started, how it was carried out, who ordered it and who was involved in doing it should be made public.
Also requiring investigation is the communications channel through which the instructions, and the information reports from the surveillance, were passed between the people at the pinnacle of power and the spies who were doing the actual surveillance. Finally, the political intentions behind the wiretapping and specific cases in which public affairs were affected by the illicit information need to be exposed.
Only when the full picture of what happened is made clear will the country be able to engage in true reflection, and come up with a way to keep it from happening again. As long as facts remain hidden, no one will believe the government, however much it might insist that there is no illegal wiretapping.
The problem is that the secrecy of intelligence organizations makes it hard to reveal all the facts. That is also why the prosecutors’ investigation is having such a hard time. It may not be possible to find out exactly what happened unless those involved come forth and confess. But that is not to be expected, since those people know that prosecution and public condemnation await them. The psychology of “protecting the organization” is another obstacle.
We need an extraordinary measure to untie this knot. President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor, who visited Korea recently, said, “Forgiveness has to be a premise if you want to find out the truth. If you tell people to confess with a frightening punishment in mind, the truth will slip away.” I think this is worth noting.
What if the president proposed a mass pardon for wiretapping? If wrongdoers confess and apologize, people tend to accept it. This would be a historical reconciliation in the style of Nelson Mandela. Based on the proposition of the president, the National Intelligence Service could implement a “confess the truth program” that persuades those who were involved in illegal wiretapping in the past to tell the truth. Right now, the National Intelligence Service is in total disgrace. To be born again as an intelligence organization that is loved by the people, it must go through the procedure of making a thorough confession to its past wrongdoings.
Ironically, the controversy over whether to reveal the contents of the tapes has given the government a grand opportunity to eradicate illegal wiretapping. If this chance is passed up, the people will have to live in fear of surveillance, even under this administration.

* The writer is the chief of the JoongAng Ilbo’s editorial page.


by Heo Nam-chin

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