[Viewpoint]Intelligence in the modern era
Debate is heating up across the nation over proposed revisions to laws governing the scope of the National Intelligence Service. The revisions aim at meeting the needs of the modern era. They will enhance the NIS’s ability to gather information on economics, industry, technology and the environment while reinforcing the system to monitor terrorism and industrial espionage. They are also necessary to end controversy over the service’s constitutionality.
And yet, some condemn the effort, calling the affected laws “five major evil laws.” But when we look into the proposed revisions, their necessity becomes even clearer.
First, some say the revised concept of “national interest” with regard to the NIS’s duties is too abstract and inclusive. They worry the change could prompt political investigations. However, the clause’s abstractness must be understood in line with specific cases.
It will be easy enough to judge whether information about candlelight vigils, the financial crisis and the North Korean nuclear crisis is linked to the national interest or not. If political abuse of the NIS’s investigative authority is still worrisome, the problem can be solved by adding a clause that the National Intelligence Service must not perform any illegal duty such as political investigations or information gathering to protect a particular administration.
Second, some say the proposed revision on antiterrorist activities will be abused to oppress those who oppose an administration in the name of counterterrorism because the concept of terror is vague. They are also critical about a plan to let the military perform police duties.
And yet, the concept of terror is accurately defined as “what is agreed in international treaties,” so counterterrorism activities cannot be abused for political reasons. It is also natural that the military’s manpower and equipment be used in an area hit by terrorism when police cannot adequately conduct rescue and patrol.
Third, the planned legislation on national cyber crisis management is criticized as being a “Digital National Security Law.” The planned legislation aims to prevent a cyber crisis caused by hacking and computer virus attacks.
The world has already begun a war against such attacks. Korea is not an exception. About 190 major institutions in the nation face 200,000 hacking attempts every day.
In order to protect the nation’s security, developing cyber crisis management skills is urgent. The legislation systemically backs such efforts.
Fourth, some oppose the planned revision to the communications privacy protection law because the nation’s citizens will become surveillance targets and people’s private e-mails can be monitored.
And yet, the intelligence authorities will not be able to wiretap or eavesdrop at their own discretion. Such activity requires a court warrant under all circumstances. And a communications service provider cannot record and store customers’ conversations.
The National Intelligence Service’s duty is to sternly punish international crimes, industrial espionage and other heinous infractions such as kidnapping and murder; not to conduct surveillance of people’s private matters.
Fifth, the planned revision to the law governing the protection and management of confidential information is also under fire. Some say the people’s right to know will be violated because items directly linked to everyday life can be protected and managed under the justification of protecting the national interest.
But designating something as being in the nation’s interest will require a strict procedure based on legal principles. Like the terrorism clause, administrations will not be able to protect themselves in the name of protecting national secrets .
The planned changes also include a clause to protect press freedom, which stipulates that “investigating, collecting and leaking a national secret about a matter in the public’s interest for the purpose of protecting that interest will not be punished.”
Criticisms of planned revisions to laws governing the National Intelligence Service grow out of a disgraceful history of past abuse. We, however, must not shackle the intelligence service in the information age just to express our bad feelings about the past.
It is crucial to establish legal grounds for a national intelligence authority to perform its duty in line with the changes of our time. Active and positive intelligence activities are fertilizer for fruitful policies.
The writer is a professor of law at Yonsei University.