Orwellian shadowsMobile phones and the internet may soon become subject to legal wiretapping by the authorities. Should the revised version of the Protection of Communications Secrets Act, which was introduced in the National Assembly on Friday, be passed at the July 2 plenary session, investigative authorities would have the legal right to wiretap mobile phones, once the necessary technology has been developed.
If the bill is passed, telecommunication companies and internet portal sites will have to keep phone and Internet records for a year and allow authorities including the prosecution, the police and the National Intelligence Service access to the information, whenever it is deemed necessary. Information regarding a person’s location, held in GPS devices, will also be subject to surveillance. Where an individual has been, what they said to whom and which Internet sites they visited will be open to perusal by the authorities.
While we cannot help feeling uneasy that we are lurching closer to George Orwell’s infamous “Big Brother” society, the revision seems to be an inevitable development in this fast-changing era of telecommunications. Today some 41 million people in Korea use mobile phones, compared to 23 million users of landlines. The number of high-speed internet users has reached 14 million and mobile phones and the Internet have become a crucial part of life. Because most high-tech crimes such as corporate espionage involve mobile phones and the Internet, the investigative authorities’ claim that this revision could prevent losses amounting to billions of dollars has some merit.
Yet, looking at our past, there have been numerous cases where the investigative authorities abused their power to inspect personal information. It was not so long ago that the Kim Dae-jung administration regularly tapped the phones of some 1,800 people while putting advertisements in newspapers reassuring people that it was impossible for mobile phones to be tapped.
The revised bill limits the list of reasons for wiretapping to investigations that combat terrorism, kidnapping, drug trafficking and corporate espionage. It also includes a clause on rewarding those who report illegal wiretapping. However, such clauses seem insufficient to completely prevent tapping by government agencies who too frequently abuse their superior position. We must first issue and implement technological guidelines that can block abuses by the authorities in accessing personal information. Only then should we approve this revised bill.