Soldiers’ smartphones could cause security issue

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Soldiers’ smartphones could cause security issue

A day in the life of Sergeant Kim, who is currently serving his two-year military duty with a frontline unit along the Demilitarized Zone, begins like this.

He wakes at 5:50 a.m. by an alarm on his smartphone set to vibrate.

He turns off the alarm and checks for sport results.

The sergeant then logs onto Facebook and leaves replies to comments posted by friends. Kim then puts the mobile gadget back into his mattress so it won’t be seen by senior officers.

“I know it’s against the rules,” said the 23-year-old sergeant. “But since it’s much easier to communicate with friends out in society via smartphone, I secretly brought it back to the post after I went on leave,” Kim, who only wished to be identified by his last name, told the JoongAng Ilbo.

An increasing number of soldiers serving their mandatory military service are sneaking in electronic gadgets to their unit posts, which is strictly banned by military law in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The military is mostly concerned that smartphones could potentially leak confidential information through their GPS capabilities.

Unauthorized use of mobile phones normally leads to guardhouse confinement.

“The phenomenon of private soldiers using their smuggled-in mobile phones inside their barracks has become almost normal,” said recently discharged Jeon, who also wished not to disclose his full name.

“I would say about one-third of soldiers use smartphones.”

The young soldiers now serving their military service are accustomed to mobile communications as they got their first phones in their early teens, making them more prone to smuggle in their gadgets.

“One way to safely land your hands on your smartphone is by befriending an enlisted postman,” said Corporal Lee, who currently serves in the Air Force.

“Once you become close with a mailman, the screening process for a parcel can be skipped.”

Through wireless service, young soldiers post pictures of their unit facilities on social networking sites such as Facebook, not fully aware of the risks their actions could bring to national security.

In response to growing concerns that such actions by servicemen have put national security at risk, the Ministry of National Defense announced a set of guidelines Monday on the use of social media on smartphones in military barracks, vowing tougher punishments for those found in violation of military rules.

In addition to prohibiting the use of communication devices, the ministry also banned military personnel from posting remarks that insult and mock the military in general.

Expression of one’s own political views is also disallowed while in service. Some have expressed concerns that such restrictions infringe upon one’s freedom of expression.

“Even the defense minister urged servicemen in mandatory service to let him know of their difficulties via Twitter last year,” said Lim Tae-hoon, head of the Center for Military Rights in Korea.

“This new guideline is a move backward that will not be effective in changing the environment in the military.”

By Lee Chul-jae, Kang Jin-kyu []
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