Sorting out the Net

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Sorting out the Net

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the law mandating Internet users use their real names is against the Constitution. In a unanimous decision yesterday, the highest bench affirmed that it constitutes an excessive regulation if an Internet site with over 100,000 users per day demands its users register their personal information, including their real names, in order to post messages or comments on the site. The court’s decision, however, raises some worries that it could possibly lead to a further deterioration of the polluted culture in cyberspace.

The primary goal of the Internet real-name system - which was introduced five years ago - was to cut back on malicious comments posted under the cloak of anonymity. The real-name system was also a reflection of a social consensus that a screening process was necessary to prevent netizens from posting overly provocative remarks or insults on the Internet.

The Constitutional Court is convinced that the basic purpose of legislation aimed at discouraging illegal postings and finding offenders if the need arises can be fully attained by tracking their IP addresses and letting the legal process take place. The court also cited the possibility of personal information being leaked as another reason for its ruling. In a nutshell, the public benefits of the real-name system are not enough to restrict freedom of expression, the court said. We also agree that the real-name system hampers domestic Internet companies’ business when overseas services like Twitter and Facebook are excluded from the regulation. We support the court’s decision to prioritize freedom of speech.

However, the court’s decision should not be interpreted as a license for unfettered freedom on cyberspace. The current law on the use of telecommunication networks and the protection of information clearly stipulates that defamation via the Internet be strictly punished. In addition, a system which allows netizens to request that Internet operators delete slanderous information or refuse illegal information is established, too.

The Korea Internet Self-Governance Organization, which is comprised of major portal sites, should also devise more detailed plans to prevent illegitimate information by reinforcing its standards. The government must do its best to keep online predators from infringing on individual privacy. We hope the court’s decision provides a precious opportunity for netizens to recover an ability to purify themselves.

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