Clarify laws on cyberfreedomThe Constitution ensures freedom of the press and publication as well as freedom of assembly and association. But it can be argued that an individual’s rights must sometimes be restricted for the good of the community.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling that a telecommunications law that led to the arrest of blogger Park Dae-sung, a.k.a. “Minerva,” is unconstitutional opens the debate on the scope of free speech in an era of unlimited and largely uncensored electronic information.
Park was charged with spreading false information online after he made apparently accurate predictions about the stock market and the global economic crisis. Authorities accused him of spreading panic, which then helped exacerbate the economy’s slide. The court ruled as unconstitutional a clause in the telecommunications law that imposes a prison sentence of up to five years and heavy fines for spreading false information online or via mobile phones that harms the public interest.
Park argued that the definition of the phrase “public interest” is unclear and subjective. The Constitutional Court agreed, saying it can be interpreted in several ways. Criminal penalties based on vague and subjective terms can lead to disproportionate constraint on expression.
The Constitutional Court also ruled that the expression of false statements is also protected by freedom of speech.
The controversial legal clause has only stepped into the spotlight because of the rise of the Internet and mobile phones.
As a result of the court’s ruling, the 28 people charged with spreading false rumors about North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island can ostensibly walk free.
Until new legal penalties are crafted, there are no grounds to prosecute the purveyors of false statements and accusations on the Internet and mobile devices.
Our society has seen how the spread of groundless and distorted information via the Internet can rattle public opinion and deal a fatal blow to individual human rights. The conspiracy theory over the Cheonan sinking and the attacks on hip-hop singer Tablo come to mind.
The Constitution supports limits on freedom of expression when it comes to protecting state security and order for the public benefit. And it is hard to discern truth from lies in the plethora of information on the Internet. But at the very least, the law must be revised to set straight the permissibility and accountability of freedom of speech on the Internet.