Insane spying on journalistsThe Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) is under fire for surveillance on media organizations. It has asked wireless companies for access to phone details of reporters of certain media outlets for its investigation.
The inspection division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has also seized public smartphones of former and current spokespersons of the top prosecution without warrants. The forensic findings ended up in the hands of the CIO through searches of the inspection bureau. The move raises serious concern as spokespersons mostly communicate with reporters covering judiciary affairs through their public smartphones. The CIO is suspected of examining the movements of judiciary reporters who are unrelated to its investigation.
The targeted media organizations and reporters were mostly those who have been critical of the government and CIO. TV Chosun raised favoritism issues related to the promotion of Lee Sung-yoon as head of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office. Lee went to the same university law department as President Moon Jae-in. The Munhwa Ilbo has been critical of the Moon Jae-in administration’s policies. The CIO’s handpicking of the two organizations can raise suspicion of targeted investigation.
The media investigates wrongdoings of the sitting power, although it lacks legal authority. Inside sources play an important role to expose wrongdoings committed by the government. Dictatorships usually threaten the media and whistle-blowers. Former President Chun Doo Hwan, who took power through a military coup, forced media mergers to filter out critical outlets and tame the press. There are many signs the movements of reporters had been tracked. Many lament a return to the authoritarian period.
The CIO must explain its reasons for the surveillance. It must elaborate why and who it spied on. The office refuses to explain the reason. But impairing press freedom and privacy can be a more urgent affair.
The CIO sparked controversy by driving Lee in a deputy’s office car for his questioning. The extraordinary law enforcement agency caused more controversy than relief since its founding a year ago. The CIO must ruminate on its founding purpose. It must study the Constitutional rights. It should contemplate why competent prosecutors and police officers refuse to take jobs at the CIO. It must at least keep to Constitutional and legal procedures.