CIO's alleged improper surveillance targeted members of PPP fan club
Allegations about improper surveillance by the state anti-corruption investigation office have escalated to suspicions of a targeted inspection, after it was found that the watchdog looked at telephone records of fan club members of the opposition People Power Party's (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol.
According to reports from the JoongAng Ilbo, the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) last October obtained personal records of six members of Yoon’s online fan cafe on Naver, including their names, resident registration numbers, home addresses and subscription and cancellation dates of telecommunication services. All six members are housewives.
“I'm just an ajumma [middle-aged woman] making food at home, and my husband is a renter,” one of the women, a 52-year-old who lives in Seongbuk District in northern Seoul, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “None of my relatives are high-ranking government officials, nor have I ever contacted any journalists.”
She did admit that she continued supporting Yoon through his fan cafe, and was once kicked out of an online community after strongly criticizing former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and the government's real estate policy, and arguing with another user.
“I now have the habit of looking around when I go to the underground parking lot,” she said. “I have a child who is working as a civil servant and another who is preparing for the exam, and I’m really scared that they'll be penalized.”
Another housewife in her 50s who had her phone records inspected, is also a member of the fan club of Han Dong-hoon, a senior prosecutor who is a close ally of Yoon.
Fear among the six women increased after the death of a whistleblower last Wednesday who alleged ruling Democratic Party (DP) presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung's paid legal fees by proxy. Managers of Yoon's fan cafe are discussing whether to “disintegrate” the fan community.
Kim Jeong-cheol, director of human rights at the Korea Criminal Procedure Law who is representing members of Yoon’s fan cafe who were surveilled, said it is a "mystery how the CIO secured their telecommunications data."
“The problem would be more serious if they targeted the fan cafe regardless of the case under investigation,” Kim said.
Kim insisted that the CIO should reveal the details of how they inquired about the personal telecommunications data, saying, “If the CIO continues to refuse to give an explanation, the National Assembly should conduct a parliamentary probe.
Kim is planning to gather victims until Jan. 23 and file a constitutional appeal on Jan. 28. Hanbyun (Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea) is also pushing for a compensation suit against the state.
The number of people confirmed to have had inquiries made about their telecommunications data by the CIO is increasing over time.
Seo Min, a professor at Dankook University College of Medicine and one of the authors of “The Unprecedented Nation: How Democracy Comes to an End,” a book more commonly referred to as "The Cho Kuk Dark Book", is said to had his telecommunications data surveilled twice in October last year — both for his business and private phone. As of Thursday last week, in addition to the six members of Yoon’s fan club and professor Seo, the CIO had made inquiries about the telecommunication data of a total of 340 people (456 cases).
However, head of the CIO Kim Jin-wook, reiterated that “adequacy should be considered beyond legality.” In other words, the indiscriminate surveillance of the telecommunications data may have been an excessive form of investigation, but not illegal.
Indictments against Kim and related officials are accumulating.
In addition to submitting a resolution to the National Assembly urging the resignation of the head of the CIO on Jan. 3, the PPP filed a complaint against Kim and Yeo Woon-guk, deputy head of the CIO, on charges of violating the Telecommunications Business Act and the abuse of official authority and interference with the exercise of a right to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office.
Regarding allegations that the CIO looked into the telecommunications data of PPP Rep. Jun Joo-hyae but wrote to her on Dec. 13 denying having done so, the PPP argued that the agency should also be facing charges of making bogus reports.
BY KIM MIN-JOONG, SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]