Calm response is keyThe controversy over the National Intelligence Service’s hacking program led to the tragic death on Saturday of an agent who was involved in purchasing the program from an Italian IT company. Before committing suicide, the agent left a note in which he said the spy agency has never conducted illegal surveillance on citizens, but he added that the agency deleted information on its counterterrorism and counter-North Korean activities stored in the NIS network. The disclosure was made a day after the agency announced it would release related data to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly. The development raises suspicion over the possibility that any sensitive information could be included in the deleted data.
The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy immediately called for a hearing instead of a visit to the agency for investigation. The opposition also raised suspicions that 138 IP addresses, including those of KT, KBS and Seoul National University, have been found in leaked log files from an Italian hacking team. Meanwhile, the ruling Saenuri Party criticized the opposition for the “innocent death of an agent from political pressure.” The party also refuted the opposition’s claim by asserting that the IP addresses were just the traces of the NIS blocking outside hackers’ DDos attacks on those institutions.
Nothing is clear now. But a calm response is key to addressing the case. Needless to say, the government must not use the suicide to cover up the truth, and the opposition also must refrain from making groundless accusations.
However, surveillance beyond the boundaries of the law cannot be pardoned. The purchase of the hacking program, which allows live surveillance of smartphone conversations, shortly before the general and presidential elections poses a serious question given public concern about the spy agency’s history of surveillance on civilians on the pretext of collecting intelligence on North Korea.
The ruling and opposition parties must get to the bottom of the case. The NIS must also submit details about its purchase of the hacking program and records of surveillance to the Intelligence Committee, and comply with the on-site probe scheduled Monday. If any illegality is found, the prosecution must launch an investigation. But all activities must be cautious of national security.
The opposition needs a prudent approach because indiscriminate exposure will only trigger political conflicts. The hacking program is used by 97 agencies, including the FBI, in 35 countries around the world. No agency has made public its reason for the purchase of the program or details on how it’s used. Both parties must deal with the case in a bipartisan way. They must take it as an opportunity to strike a balance between security and human rights and build a consensus on the role of intelligence agencies.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 20, Page 30