CIO slammed for running illegal surveillance on reporters
Despite its lack of jurisdiction, the state anti-corruption agency ran telecommunication surveillance operations against media journalists, records from the Supreme Court showed.
According to Rep. Jun Joo-hyae of the People Power Party (PPP), the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) applied last year for seven court warrants to monitor telecommunications of four journalists. The lawmaker cited Supreme Court records for her findings.
Jun told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday that the CIO filed warrant applications to local courts in June and July last year against four journalists. Two were reporters of the JoongAng Ilbo, a Korean-language daily affiliated with the Korea JoongAng Daily, and two were journalists of a TV broadcaster.
The CIO targeted one particular TV reporter four times. Supreme Court records showed that the CIO applied for a telecommunication surveillance warrant on June 23, 24 and 25, 2021, three days in a row. Warrants were issued for the June 23 and 25 applications, but it struck out on the June 24 application.
The CIO applied for another warrant for the same journalist on July 27. The court granted the request, but only partially accepted the CIO's grounds and limited its scope.
A telecommunication surveillance warrant allows an investigative agency to look into the call history, text records and Kakao Talk activities of a subject. Investigative agencies such as the prosecution normally seek a telecommunication surveillance warrant against a criminal suspect, and a court adheres to the Protection of Communications Secret Act before granting one.
The CIO then applied for a telecommunication surveillance warrant for another journalist of the same broadcaster on July 27, 2021, and on July 22, it applied for warrants for the JoongAng Ilbo reporters. The three applications were all partially accepted.
The two TV reporters had aired reports in April last year that CIO chief Kim Jin-wook gave special treatment to Lee Sung-yoon, head of the Seoul High Prosecutors' Office, when Lee was probed by the agency.
In May last year, the JoongAng Ilbo journalists reported about Lee's alleged abuse of power to obstruct a politically sensitive investigation. Lee was later indicted on charges of obstructing a probe into an illegal travel ban slapped on a scandal-plagued former vice minister of justice, Kim Hak-eui.
The CIO has jurisdiction over high-ranking public officials and their families, including the president, lawmakers, judges and prosecutors, but not journalists.
"It is illegal for the CIO to seek telecommunication surveillance warrants against reporters," said a prosecutor-turned lawyer. "It may argue that the courts granted the warrants so the investigations are legal, but the court decisions are still controversial."
Rep. Jun also said the latest finding is proof that the CIO is abusing its power to run illegal surveillance operations against its critics.
"It is an undeniable overreach," said Jun, adding that the agency had already abused its power by running similar surveillance operations against the PPP's presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol and opposition lawmakers.
The CIO said Wednesday that all of its investigative activities were lawfully conducted under the supervision of the courts.
BY JEONG YONG-HWAN, SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]