Lesson from the rulingThe Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of a four-year jail term for former National Intelligence Service (NIS) Chief Won Sei-hoon. 11 justices out of the 13-member bench accepted the defendant’s violations of the Public Official Election Act and NIS Law as he instructed NIS agents to put posts backing a presidential candidate from the ruling party and slandering candidates from opposition parties on social network platforms, including Twitter.
In the ruling, the highest court said that the civil servants were collectively engaged in inappropriate activities to support or praise a certain presidential candidate while opposing or smearing other candidates by taking advantage of their positions in the run-up to the election instead of keeping the political neutrality required of public servants.
The core issue of the 58-month trial since Won was prosecuted in July 2013 was whether the spies’ activities of posting politically-themed messages in cyberspace really constitute an intervention in elections and whether the head of the spy agency ordered it. After the prosecution presented the spy agency’s internal documents on their aberrant behavior as evidence to the court, the justices reached the conclusion that they were clear evidence of the government’s systematic meddling in the election.
It is anachronistic for the nation’s spy agency to step into domestic politics after reneging on its original mission of collecting intelligence for the sake of national security. Through the ruling, the top court made clear that the NIS should not be tempted to sway public opinion ahead of a national election and that the chief of the NIS must take responsibility for the wrongdoing.
Manipulating public opinion is the enemy of democracy. It not only affects voters’ choice but also misleads major policy decisions of the government. In that sense, a systematic public opinion rigging campaign orchestrated by a blogger named Druking in his suspicious bid to influence our politics toward a particular political goal cannot be accepted no matter what. Even though it was committed by a civilian group, not a state organization, the essence of the two cases — the manipulation of public opinion — is the same.
A public opinion manipulation campaign disguised as “civilians’ voluntary action” under the patronage of a political force is as grave a social evil as the spy agency’s malicious intervention in politics. The prosecution and police must reflect on what the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday really stands for.