Don’t cross the line

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Don’t cross the line

The standoff between the ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) over the National Intelligence Service’s (NIS) alleged snooping on private citizens’ mobile phones is poised to escalate into a full-fledged political battle. While the ruling party insists on probing the case through an on-site visit to the spy agency as agreed with the opposition, the NPAD wants a prosecution investigation on all aspects of the case, including the suspicious death of an agent who committed suicide last week after taking a form of responsibility for the fiasco. The opposition demanded that the NIS submit 30 documents in seven categories and let lawmakers look into all NIS attache offices inside the National Assembly.

Finding the truth behind the myriad of allegations is, of course, crucial. But the opposition’s call for combing through our top spy agency has gone too far. The issue is whether the NIS has been tapping the communications of private citizens on mobile devices. According to a survey, 52.9 percent of the respondents believed that the hacking programs developed by an Italian IT company were used by the agency to monitor the public. One of the best ways to find the truth is for lawmakers from the Intelligence Committee to visit the agency and figure out why the spy agency purchased the programs and how they used it.

The opposition has shunned such an approach to the case and come up with a totally different demand. That could be part of an effort to build an advantageous atmosphere for next year’s general election. Its call for an investigation by the prosecution does not make sense because the prosecution has little legal ground to kick off investigations at the moment when no one knows who the victims were and how much damage they suffered.

The NIS also has problems. First of all, it purchased hacking programs at the time of a general and presidential election. Second, it has made its entire staff sign a statement refuting suspicions in political circles. Why did it do that? The NIS must clear up all suspicions in the case by fully disclosing to the Intelligence Committee how the hacking programs were used and what materials were deleted by the agent before he committed suicide.

President Park Geun-hye also must break her silence and urge the spy agency to tell the truth. In 2005, then-President Roh Moo-hyun ordered a thorough investigation of the NIS’s alleged wiretapping of lawmakers from the opposition party (now the ruling Saenuri Party) after accommodating their demands. She should not forget that.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 23, Page 30

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