[EDITORIALS]Suspicions confirmedThe Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office announced yesterday the results of its investigation into the illegal wiretapping practices by the National Intelligence Service. In sum, under the Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung administrations, the intelligence body eavesdropped on phone conversations of many leading figures in politics, finance and the media. This investigation is significant in that it has finally made public the illegal wiretapping antics by the nation’s intelligence agency, after suspicions of such actions had been raised in the past.
The extent of the wiretapping by the National Intelligence Service is quite shocking. During Kim Young-sam’s presidency, the intelligence agency recorded 1,000 cassette tapes worth of conversations from June 1994 to November 1997. From the 274 tapes that were seized, the wiretapping victims, as confirmed by the prosecutors, include 273 politicians, 84 senior civil servants, 75 journalists and 27 lawyers. The figures may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Under former President Kim Dae-jung, the intelligence body used its own equipment designed to intercept fixed-line phone conversations. It had separate gear for decrypting cell phone calls, and wiretapped nearly 1,800 individuals.
At the time, the intelligence agency paid for print advertisements claiming that intercepting phone conversations would be impossible, deceiving Korean citizens.
As has been pointed out frequently, the essence of this case is that what the National Intelligence Service did to the nation’s leading figures was a crime, an action that infringed on the basic human rights of our citizens. Our constitution emphasizes the importance of maintaining the dignity of individual Koreans. What makes the case even worse is that the very people who committed the illegal wiretapping practice threatened their targets with the recorded tapes and asked for money in return.
Investigations based on the content of wiretapping could possibly open a can of worms by inadvertently justifying illegal wiretapping practices. Yet civic interest groups say the lid must be kept on the illegal wiretapping by a government agency, but call for disclosure of the content of what the intelligence agents intercepted. The ruling party has apparently capitulated, as attested by its push for special legislation to that effect.
It is praiseworthy that the prosecutors have asked an MBC journalist to be held legally liable after the network reported what it had obtained from an intercepted conversation, because some activists have said the public’s right to know justified the reporting. But the prosecutors said MBC’s report was based on the contents of illegally wiretapped conversations and was thus a breach of the telecommunications privacy law. This particular law is in line with a section in our constitution that stipulates that media and other publications not infringe upon rights of others or breach public morals and social ethics.
The reason there has been illegal wiretapping in every administration is that the intelligence body has been operated as some sort of private wing of the ruling authorities. One example of this is the prosecutors’ finding that a report from a team from the intelligence agency was leaked to the son of Kim Young-sam, Kim Hyun-chul, and was consequently used to put pressure on other political figures.
This investigation has to be the starting point to eradicate all illegal wiretapping practices and to begin a drastic reform at the National Intelligence Service. That is the only way in which the current administration can erase lingering suspicions that wiretapping is still going on.