It’s up to the courts

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It’s up to the courts

The controversy over law enforcement agencies peeking at citizens’ cyber activities is getting out of control after lawmakers lambasted related government ministries and other organizations during their regular audit of the government at the National Assembly. Since the suspicion that the conservative administration has been monitoring social networking services in real time spread, hundreds of thousands of subscribers to Korea’s leading Internet messenger service have defected to a foreign company with a good reputation for cybersecurity for their customers. Some politicians went so far as to compare the situation to the dictatorial government’s crackdown on freedom of speech, fueling public unease.

It all began after the deputy chairman of the opposition Labor Party Jung Jin-woo raised suspicions that the private records of 3,000 of his acquaintances were exposed when a record of his KakaoTalk, Korea’s leading SNS service, was confiscated by the police while he was under investigation for staging an illegal rally. The controversy was fanned by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’s coincidental announcement of a preemptive investigation into propagation of groundless rumors and defamation in cyberspace.

However, there is no evidence that Korean Internet companies’ cybersecurity is porous or our government has been monitoring cyberspace beyond international norms. The exacerbation of public concerns can be attributed to a critical lack of trust in the judicial branch and law enforcement authorities.

According to our criminal code, authorities can access individuals’ private information without their consent only when it is necessary for investigations - and when a court has issued a warrant stipulating specific boundaries. When it comes to offline activities, these rules are strictly observed. But in cyberspace, an all-inclusive feeling prevails. For instance, law enforcement agencies request SNS companies to submit all data recorded in someone’s name without specifying the kinds of information they need to look into. The court then generously issues warrants for searches and seizures. This loose practice offers fertile ground for paranoia.

That calls for investigators to be precise in their requests to courts. And courts too must be careful in issuing warrants, as they have to take responsibility for protecting human rights. Our courts must establish unequivocal standards for issuing warrants for investigations of cyberspace as soon as possible. The courts must require law enforcement agencies to request information on specific persons or issues rather than sticking to an all-inclusive mentality.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 14, Page 34

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