Law on real name use on Internet ruled illegal

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Law on real name use on Internet ruled illegal

The Constitutional Court yesterday ruled that it is unconstitutional to require identification verification from users of Internet message boards, stressing that freedom of expression is more important than regulating speech on the Internet to protect individuals.

The court yesterday struck down a clause in a 2007 law that required Internet users to verify their true identities before posting messages on an open board with more than 100,000 users a day. The requirement was stipulated in Clause 5, Article 44 of the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Data Protection.

All eight justices unanimously agreed that the identification verification requirement is unconstitutional.

With yesterday’s decision, the system, adopted in July 2007 to prevent the kind of poisonous anonymous messages that led to the suicides of several public figures, will be scrapped. Since its adoption, the law has been controversial, with critics saying it restricted freedom of expression in cyberspace.

An Internet message board user and Media Today filed constitutional petitions in 2010 that argued the system violates freedom of expression and privacy.

In its ruling, the court said restricting freedom of expression can only be allowed when it has a clear effect on the public interest. “After the system was introduced, there was no meaningful decline in the number of illegal postings,” the ruling said. “Instead, users fled to Internet sites operated from overseas. It also created discrimination against service providers at home and favored those overseas. Taking these circumstances into account, it is hard to say that the system is serving the public interest.”

The court also said the system restricted freedom of expression and made it difficult for foreigners to use Internet message boards. The court said it was hard to say that the system did more good than harm to the public interest. It was also in line with the court’s earlier support for freedom of expression.

Last December, the Constitutional Court ruled a clause in the nation’s election law that prohibits preliminary election campaigning through social networking services unconstitutional. It said the ban was an infringement on the freedom of expression in cyberspace and expressing support for or opposition to a political party or candidate through social networking services was allowed ahead of the April 11 legislative elections.

Despite yesterday’s ruling, the obligation to verify identities will still be applied on Internet message board users during the election period under the current election law.

The Korea Internet Corporations Association, which represents major portal site operators in the country, including NHN, Daum and Google, issued a statement welcoming the ruling.

Major portal site operators said they will update their systems in order to guarantee message board users privacy while regulating anonymous posts that violate other people’s rights.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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