Stop the surveillanceSuspicions about improper surveillance of people by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) is deepening. Though its investigations are supposed to be strictly limited to senior government officials, the evidence shows the extra law enforcement agency looked at telephone records of not only opposition lawmakers but also anti-governemnt journalists and even housewives. If the Moon Jae-in administration — the alleged defender of human rights — keeps silent about these violations, presidential candidates must present ways to address the problem.
Doubts about the CIO’s prying into communication records of people were triggered by a lawyer and a public accountant last month. The controversy grew after the office turned out to have looked at phone conversations of reporters covering legal affairs, including a TV Chosun reporter who exposed the CIO’s special treatment of the head of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office when it summoned him for questioning. Phone records of an Asahi Shimbun correspondent in Seoul and the wife of opposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol were also looked at.
More shocking is the news that the CIO looked into a chatrooms used by more than 70 journalists, including the editor-in-chief of the JoongAng Ilbo. The CIO’s unjustifiable act rings alarm bells because it threatens the freedom of the press.
Some people raise the suspicion that the CIO has been secretly conducting an inspection of people for political purposes just as the National Intelligence Service did in the past. The scenario goes something like this: if a pro-government broadcaster sets an agenda and a pro-government civic group accuses someone of something, the CIO embarks on checking his or her telephone records.
Even though citizens and civic groups denounced the CIO for its unlawful acts, the Blue House and ruling Democratic Party (DP) have kept mum. When suspicions arose over the presidential office spying on civilians in December 2018, Rep. Kim Eui-kyeom, a Blue House spokesman at the time and DP lawmaker now, claimed, “The Moon Jae-in administration does not have any genes for surveilling civilians.” The Blue House did not show any reaction except its deadpan descripton of the CIO as an “independent body.”
If the government cannot clear these suspicions, the next administration must. We urge presidential candidates to make clear their position on this Big Brother activity and present detailed plans to amend the Telecommunication Business Act, which allowed the CIO to spy on innocent people.