Police investigate personal information leak

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Police investigate personal information leak

Police are investigating the Songpa District Office in southern Seoul after it posted a list of people whose information was stolen by a suspect in a major online pornography ring, some of which may be related to the alleged victims.

On April 6, a public notice appeared on the district office’s website partially listing the names, genders and ages of around 200 citizens whose private information was suspected to have been recently leaked.

The district office said the list was posted with the intention to warn those on it of potential fraudulent use of their private information, but it generated controversy after media reports claimed some of the people on the list had had their data accessed by suspects in the notorious so-called “Nth room” pornography chat rooms on the Telegram messaging app.

According to police, the data had been stolen off the government’s database by a co-conspirator of Cho Ju-bin, the prime suspect indicted Monday for operating the chat rooms.

Prosecutors believe Cho and a host of associates used the chat rooms to share pornographic material obtained from dozens of victims through blackmail and other coercive means. These chat rooms were believed to have around 15,000 paying members.

Two of Cho’s alleged co-conspirators were what are called social service agents, or men who perform an alternative form of military service at a civil institution. One of the suspects surnamed Choi worked at a local community center under the Songpa District Office in that capacity, and is accused of illegally extracting private information from government databases at the office to aid Cho’s alleged schemes.

Police believe Choi accessed the records of around 200 people on the government’s database from January to June this year, some of whom were believed to be victims, but the majority of whom were ordinary citizens.

Records he is believed to have passed on to Cho include victims’ names, current and former addresses, national identification numbers and the names of family members residing with them at the time.

The Songpa District Office pulled down the list after press reports surfaced on the possibility that victims of the case could be hurt a second time. The office denied the claim, saying its notice only revealed parts of people’s names.

Police however, say it will regard any actions that inflict additional pain on victims as serious criminal acts.

Separately, police are due to hold a committee meeting today to determine whether to reveal the identity of one of Cho’s other key co-conspirators, an 18-year-old suspect surnamed Kang who was placed under pretrial detention on April 9.

Kang, who went by the online alias Butta, is believed to have been responsible for managing the profits gained from the chat rooms collected, mostly in the form of cryptocurrency. The amount the gang allegedly earned from their activities is still being investigated, but police have already seized 130 million won ($106,000) in cash from Cho’s home.

According to a special act concerning the punishment of sexual crimes, police can disclose the face and identity of a suspect involved in a sexual crime if it has “sufficient grounds” to believe it is in the public interest to do so. Kang, who was a high school student and minor when he was allegedly involved in the Telegram chat rooms since May last year, has since come of legal age.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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