Suspicious inspection of civiliansThe Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) has been gathering mounting criticism for rummaging through phone conversations of reporters to find out who leaked the indictment files on Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office chief Lee Seong-yun as well as those of opposition lawmakers. In October, the CIO demanded authority to access and search the communication records on opposition People Power Party (PPP) vice floor leader Choo Kyung-ho and other six others, including Rep. Cho Su-jin. PPP presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol called the act oppression on the opposition and could challenge the existence of the CIO.
The CIO as an investigation agency can search phone records when necessary based on the Telecommunication Business Act that requires wireless networks and internet portal sites to provide necessary mobile files if the Ministry of Justice or investigation and intelligence offices demand them for investigation, trials, sentencing and national security.
Still, the forage has gone beyond the limits and common sense. Even if the act is necessary, forced invasion of privacy must be kept to the minimum for the protection of civilian rights. But the CIO has accessed over 100 journalists in more than 17 media outlets, and when counting in lawmakers, the number reaches 125 and 229 cases. The list even includes civic group heads, who filed charges on ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmakers, and a director of the Korea Criminal Procedure Law.
Many of the figures are unrelated to the cases under investigation by the CIO. Few would consider the surveillance a rightful act for investigation. The CIO had asked for voice records on the family members of a reporter of the TV Chosun who reported on the indictment of Lee Seong-yun over his abuse of power. The move can be suspected of having vengeful motives as CIO head Kim Jin-wook had been charged for illicitly ordering to investigate the backgrounds of the media report.
The excess by the CIO has been drawing criticism even from the prosecution. Still, the CIO refuses to explain why it had looked into phone conversations of so many journalists, politicians and civilians by just reiterating it kept to legitimate procedures. If the CIO cannot speak for itself, other law enforcement offices must step in. There are a slew of charges raised against Kim, the head of the CIO. The Telecommunication Business Act also must be revised to enhance civilian rights.