[EDITORIALS]Root out illegal surveillance

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[EDITORIALS]Root out illegal surveillance

The Seoul Central District Public Prosecutors Office has asked a court to issue warrants to detain Lim Dong-won and Shin Kun, who headed the National Intelligence Service during the Kim Dae-jung administration, on charges of violating the Protection of Communications Secrets Act. The Kim administration had strongly emphasized human rights, and we feel extremely disappointed to see the allegations of illegal eavesdropping. The fundamental rights of privacy and communication appear to have been violated by the government agency.
It is shocking to learn the details of the agency’s illegal eavesdropping. Mr. Lim allowed the spy agency to input phone numbers en masse into R2s, eavesdropping machines using the landline communications network. He also ordered the spy agency to develop CAS, which enables the agents to eavesdrop on mobile phone conversations, enabling the intelligence service to carry out 24-hour surveillance.
He was suspected of intervening in domestic politics by ordering eavesdropping on telephone conversations of critics of the sunshine policy of engaging North Korea, and pressuring politicians.
Mr. Shin has denied all allegations associated with illegal eavesdropping, stressing that he had ordered the spy agency to destroy all surveillance equipment while he was in office. But the prosecution said the dismantlement was involuntary because the spy agency was required to brief the National Assembly about its eavesdropping operations after revised communication privacy laws took effect in March 2002. The prosecution said Mr. Shin attempted to conceal the illegal eavesdropping by trying to persuade former agents to reverse their testimonies.
The illegal eavesdropping scandal was prompted by a leaked audiotape made by the intelligence agency, and the core matter is the government agency’s violations of the people’s basic rights and human rights by secretly listening in on their conversations. The intelligence agents even attempted to seek personal gain by smuggling out the audiotapes ― the act of common criminals.
Despite such wrongdoing, the victims of the illegal eavesdropping operations do not even know if they were secretly overheard.
Rooting out the illegal surveillance operations is the only way to protect the people. The prosecution decided to deal with Mr. Lim and Mr. Shin using strictly legal measures since the heads of the National Intelligence Service, who should have prevented wiretapping, were involved in such matters.
The Blue House and the Uri Party, however, are grumbling about the prosecution’s attempts to detain the two. The Blue House, while saying it was not its official position, said it was too much for the prosecution to seek the detention warrants. The Uri Party raised the issue of fairness, comparing this incident with previous cases. Citing human rights protection, the Blue House and the Uri Party had demanded that Dongguk University professor Kang Jeong-koo be questioned without detention when he was investigated on charges of violating the National Security Law. Who will protect the rights of the victims of the state’s illegal surveillance if those most responsible for such operations are not detained?
Some civic groups have been consistently demanding that the contents of the audiotapes be made public, turning a blind eye to the national spy agency’s illegal operations. The governing party is seeking to establish a special law to make the contents public, taking advantage of such public opinion. But, the revelations should be made prudently.
The tapes belong to those victimized by the illegal wiretapping. And, they are the only ones who can make a decision on whether or not the tapes should be made public. We must remember the principle that stolen goods are not a subject for profit-sharing.
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