Gov’t accused of cyber snooping

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Gov’t accused of cyber snooping

Opposition lawmakers lambasted the government yesterday for what they claim are efforts to “undermine freedom of expression” by monitoring chats in mobile messenger programs, mainly KakaoTalk.

More than 400,000 users abandoned KakaoTalk in a week following reports of state cyber surveillance.

Accusations by the New Politics Alliance for Democracy on alleged cyber monitoring by the government gained more credibility yesterday when it was reported that prosecutors are planning to monitor some key words on major portal sites that they believe would disturb “social order” and “defame” people, after which they would order the managers of those sites to delete the posts.

“Since the scope of monitoring of Kakao accounts is comprehensive - the authorities would have access to names, the date of a chat and a list of calls - it doesn’t differ from state surveillance,” said Rep. Lim Su-kyung during her questioning of National Police Agency chief Kang Shin-myung during a parliamentary audit yesterday.

Opposition Rep. Park Jie-won said it has been confirmed that prosecutors called officials from online portal sites to discuss ways to find forbidden content and requested that the companies remove such content. Park, a former Blue House chief of staff, said such actions by prosecutors are “beyond legal boundaries.”

“It’s not the job of an investigative body to track down online defamations,” said the three-term lawmaker during a party leadership meeting yesterday.

The lawmaker went on to say the prosecution’s request to private companies to filter online postings reminded him of a “cyber police state.”

Controversy over state monitoring of private conversations and posts on portal sites ignited following the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announcement on Sept. 18 that it had established a new cyber investigation team intended to prevent cyber defamation and the spread of false information over the Internet.

That followed news earlier this month that authorities had used a warrant to tap Kakao chat records of Jeong Jin-u, the deputy leader of the left-wing Labor Party.

The prosecutors’ aggressive move comes two days after President Park Geun-hye publicly expressed displeasure about the recent criticisms targeting her, calling them insults and saying they had crossed a line. According to an internal prosecution document described by the Kyunghyang Shinmun yesterday, prosecutors met officials from major IT companies such as Kakao, Naver and Nate two days after Park’s remark to discuss ways to remove content considered troublesome or defamatory by the authorities.

In response to the mounting criticisms, Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-an said during a parliamentary inspection yesterday that the prosecutors were “not cyber monitoring.”

Kakao has been the biggest victim of the uproar, losing more than 400,000 of its users last week.

For Koreans, government surveillance over what’s being said and written is familiar from military rule in the 1970s and 1980s. The military government suppressed opinions critical of the authorities in the name of national security and spread fear among the public that one could be arrested for a chat during late-night drinking if it was critical of the government.

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