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   06-25-2007 17:46
Protecting Phone Privacy

New Bill Turns Korea Into Orwellian State

If the dizzying speed of the IT industrys advance facilitates the advent of a long-imagined ``Big-Brother state, Korea may be second to none. A proverbial last straw that will break the camels back is the governments ongoing move to revise the Communication Secrecy Protection _ or rather Publicizing _ Act.

Under the revision bill, not only mobile phone service providers but also credit card firms and mass transit operators are obliged to store clients records for up to a year and provide the information at the request of state investigators. This means a citizens cellular phone calls, E-mails, financial transactions and even where he or she goes on buses and subways over the past year must be kept and disclosed if the government wants the information.

The police and other state investigating agencies have selectively wiretapped mobile phone conversations for quite a while. But the proposed revision has made it obligatory for all private operators to install eavesdropping equipment to store clients each and every record and provide the information at investigators court-warranted requests, while slapping penalties of up to $1 million on violators.

Government officials stress the government will not directly engage itself in wiretapping and any disclosure should be accompanied by court warrants. Past experiences show, however, that judicial approval would be little more than a formality, and the new bill will enable the state to conduct surveillance on each and every move of almost everyone. Little surprise civic groups attack it as turning Korea back to a police state with a panopticon of up-to-the-second technology.

Moreover, the new bill has included even trade secrets and leakage of industrial technology to information subject for disclosure, leaving room for investigators to abuse their requests for too wide a range of business and other activities.

No less serious is whether the operators would be able to maintain security on the communication records in a country where the illegal leakage of personal information is more widespread than in many other countries.

It is of course necessary for law enforcement authorities to better deal with increasingly sophisticated criminals and terrorists. But if the preventive steps result in so seriously infringing on the privacy and human rights of the people they are supposed to protect, it is like putting the cart before the horse. It is little more than the legalization of the states intervention in peoples lives, as a civic activist put it.

Now that the revised bill has passed the National Assemblys Legal and Judiciary Committee, it is too late to modify its content. The only way to keep Korea from falling into a society under a big watching eye is to kill the bill, which the Assemblys plenary session should do without fail.