Rules on domestic espionage

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Rules on domestic espionage

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) has long been accused of having purchased a hacking program from an Italian company that can allow access to operating systems on individual computers and smartphones. Suspecting that the country’s top spy agency may have used the program for years to carry out illicit surveillance on politicians and civilians, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy on Monday called for the launch of a special committee to investigate the matter.

On July 8, WikiLeaks released over 400 gigabytes of leaked data from Italian surveillance malware vendor Hacking Team, which included correspondence between officials from South Korea’s 5163 Army Division - a code name for the NIS - and the company about its remote control spyware system. The local intelligence office has been suspected of spying on civilians since the Park Chung Hee era, but due to such suspicions, it was unable to acquire the spyware systems necessary to infiltrate mobile devices for legitimate espionage activities.

The NIS obtains thousands of court warrants licensing legitimate wiretapping through fixed lines. The Communications Privacy Protection Law also allows law enforcement agencies to wiretap mobile phones when necessary, though the NIS has never officially requested any such warrant because it lacks surveillance equipment, which the agency claims has been a major setback in intelligence-gathering activities for national security.

Still, the NIS is obligated to clearly explain why it purchased the wireless monitoring device so discreetly and for what purpose it has been used. Since the agency did not obtain a court warrant, those kinds of surveillance activities are illegal.

The NIS should have a limited capacity in electronic surveillance when it comes to national security affairs. Some intelligence agencies overseas are allowed to monitor the phone and Internet communications of their citizens without a court warrant solely based on a “reasonable belief” that they may be participating in terrorist activities.

After the fatal shootings at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, the French legislature in May passed a law granting state authorities the right to spy on the digital and mobile communications of anyone linked to a “terrorist” inquiry without prior judiciary authorization. Banning the intelligence agency from monitoring activities is hardly realistic. What is necessary, however, are strong legal guidelines on the purpose, use and scope of surveillance activities so that illicit spying does not take place.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 14, Page 30

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