High court ruling favors Naver

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High court ruling favors Naver

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that it was unnecessary for Internet portal giant Naver to financially compensate a user for handing over his personal data to local police because it did not violate domestic laws.

The judgment effectively overturned the decision by a lower court that ordered Naver’s operator NHN to pay the plaintiff, a 36-year-old man only identified by his surname Cha, 500,000 won ($415) in damages.

The case was sent back to the Seoul High Court for a retrial.

In March 2010, Cha was involved in a defamation suit for uploading a video clip on a Naver community group that showed an awkward moment by Yu In-chon, 64, the minister of culture, sports and tourism at the time.

The 7-second video clip featured Yu greeting former national figure skating star Kim Yu-na upon her arrival at Incheon International Airport on March 2, 2010, following her gold medal victory at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Yu was seen patting Kim’s shoulders several times before the medalist, now 25, slightly recoiled and made what many netizens called a “disgusted” face.

The video went viral online, and earned various nicknames like, “Kim’s Escape,” “The Hug Refusal” and “Minister Yu’s Mortification.”

Yu reported the case to local police, who requested Naver’s operator to provide information on the user who originally uploaded the clip - his ID, name, social security number, email address and mobile phone number - all of which the NHN handed over without notifying Cha.

Yu eventually dropped the defamation suit, but Cha took his case to authorities, claiming that Naver violated its own company policy to protect its users’ personal data.

However, under Korea’s Telecommunications Business Act, a company can respond to an authority’s request for a user’s data, including the information that NHN provided to police. The Supreme Court cited the law in its ruling Thursday and stated that the conglomerate had not breached any national regulations.

The highest court went further to mention that a search warrant from the court is needed only when investigative authorities ask to look into a user’s online history, not personal identification details.

Thursday’s verdict came at a delicate time in Korea, with the general election now just about a month away, and the onset of the campaign season means that the chances of similar cases arising will likely escalate.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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