The spying scandal

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The spying scandal

The scandal over the government’s illegal spying activities led by the Prime Minister’s public ethics division has produced more unsettling details that could deal a heavy blow to the administration. In a podcast, unionized journalists of public broadcaster KBS, who are currently on strike, revealed 2,619 reports of spying activities drawn up by the public ethics team. They obtained the data from a staffer of the team.

The revelation adds an entirely new twist to the prosecution’s investigation, which has been focused on the illegal surveillance of only one person - Kim Jong-ik, head of a financial subsidiary of KB Financial Group, who posted a video ridiculing the president on the Internet - and the government’s attempt to cover up the spying. But the new evidence suggests the government was systematically keeping tabs on the lives of politicians, businessmen and journalists.

More appalling is the extent of the illegality. The public ethics division of the Prime Minister’s Office was established to uphold ethics discipline and prevent corruption. They should only keep watch on public officials. But the documents show the division has spied on businesses, media organizations as well as individuals in additional to public officials and executives at state-run enterprises.

Their surveillance had a political purpose. Instead of delving into corruption of public officials, it was only concerned with loyalty to the incumbent government. Their monitoring of unionists, journalists, businessmen and politicians critical of the government was to be used for political purposes. Officials who received negative reports were demoted or dismissed, and those with favorable ones got promoted.

The means of surveillance also went over the legal boundary. Public officials, despite their obligation to the state, have a right to privacy. But one report described a senior official’s out-of-wedlock romantic relationship with a female in surprising detail. The record of their conversation suggests they had been bugged. This is a serious violation of human rights.

So far Lee Young-ho, former senior secretary to the president for employment and social welfare, claimed to be solely responsible. But the new documents show that the presidential office and various government agencies, including the prosecution, were involved in the illegal acts. Reports may have been passed to the president. President Lee Myung-bak should explain, and he should sack Minister of Justice Kwon Jae-jin, who was his senior secretary for civil affairs at the time.

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