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ROK Netizen Reaction to Internet Controls Limited, Likely to Increase
Open Source Center Analysis 18 August 2010
Widely regarded as the most connected country in the world, South Korea has a system of government regulations over Internet use that are designed to curb “general cyber crimes” but that also limit Internet freedom. The issue of Internet freedom gained attention online following the Lee Myung-bak administration’s handling of two high-profile incidents — in 2008 related to the protest against US beef imports and in 2009 over the arrest of a prominent Internet-based critic. Aside from interest related to these two issues, netizens, for the most part, do not appear concerned over the issue. If Seoul implements new regulations in response to continued growth in cyber crimes or new technologies, such as smartphones, netizens would likely oppose them only if they go beyond existing laws or impose significant inconveniences.
Government Response to Increasing Cyber Crimes
The South Korean Government passed its first major law governing the Internet in 2003, justifying it as necessary to stem “general cyber crimes.” The regulation requires website operators to record the true identity of individuals who wish to use any interactive features.
- The real-name system requires netizens to register with their true names and residential numbers — equivalent to social security numbers — and was intended to quell “general cyber crimes,” including online personal attacks such as cyber-bullying and malicious comments that proliferated due to the anonymity of the Internet, according to Yonhap. 
- According to the Korea Communication Commission (KCC), the law has been amended several times since it was enacted and now applies to 153 websites designated and monitored by the commission. 
- Seoul’s implementation of Internet regulations is likely in response to the “fast increase” in online criminal activities over the past decade, according to the ROK National Police Agency’s Cyber Terror Response Center (CTRC) (see Figure 1). 
- Apart from this law, there are at least 18 others that apply to cyber crimes, including cyber defamation and libel, according to the CTRC. 
Lee Government Internet Policy Under Closer Scrutiny
Although there were no significant changes to the laws governing the Internet with the start of the conservative Lee administration, Seoul’s handling of two high-profile online incidents raised suspicion among netizens of Internet suppression. The government apparently judged that the anonymity of the Internet facilitated the spread of groundless rumors and misinformation, which contributed to the nationwide protests that summer against US beef imports.
Similarly, the government’s arrest of a prominent blogger for purportedly spreading untruths added to the perception that the government sought to silence online critics.
- In May 2008, a significant segment of the ROK public displayed and spread its hostility toward President Lee for his “hasty deal” to open its market to US beef products via Internet postings, candlelight vigils, large demonstrations, and cell phone text messages.  Following a string of violent protests in June 2008, the government vowed an “all-out crackdown” on the Internet to “eradicate” the spread of verbal attacks against President Lee (Yonhap, 30 June 2008). 
Arrest of ‘Minerva’ Criticized Internationally
The arrest of the popular blogger “Minerva” by the ROK Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has been criticized by international watchdogs. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders placed South Korea on its “Countries under surveillance” list, citing the blogger’s arrest as one of the reasons (en.rsf.org/surveillance-south-korea).  
- In January 2009, the government arrested a popular South Korean blogger known as “Minerva” on charges of spreading “false information” on the government’s economic policies that led to a loss in the country’s foreign currency reserve (The Korea Herald, 14 January 2009).  In September 2009, however, the Seoul Central District Court found him not guilty, saying that his “intent to hurt the public interest” could not be determined (Yonhap, 4 September 2009).   
Review Methodology, Findings
To attempt to gain insight into ROK netizen sentiment regarding issues relating to Internet freedom, OSC conducted keyword searches on Internet blog postings, message boards, “power blogs,” and notable progressive blogs. The results of the searches tallied to identify trends in attention paid to issues, and blog postings were sampled at random for content, hits, and comments to base generalizations on the treatment of the topic. The sources were selected based on their popularity, impact, and accessibility of the website. Below are the findings, which indicate that while the two major incidents in 2008 and 2009 received heavy attention from netizens, the specific topic of Internet freedom generally had low visibility.
Internet blogs: As one barometer of netizens’ interests in South Korea, a keyword search using the terms for controversial cyber slander legislation and the real-name system on South Korea’s two most popular web portal sites — Naver and Daum — showed that blog postings mentioning the issue surged in 2008 and 2009, but the postings have been generally low in the South Korean context. South Korea has “nearly 20 million blogs,” according to the website of Korea Blog Awards (10 December 2009).  Moreover, the blogs were usually reposted news reports and other bloggers’ entries, which could explain the low number of hits that these blogs recorded and the few comments left by readers.
Popular message boards The review showed that the most popular message boards in South Korea contained little content related to the issue of Internet freedom. Daum hosts South Korea’s most active Internet discussion forum called Agora, and Naver hosts an open message board called Chisik-In that fosters discussion in the form question-and-answer on netizens’ issues of interest. Neither forum was observed to raise Internet freedom in
- A review of the discussion boards and online petitions on Agora found few postings related to the government regulations.  The relevant postings had fewer than 1,000 views compared to an average 65,000 views for popular postings on Agora.
- A review of the top 4,000 questions asked on Naver’s Chisik-In, an open board for users to post questions and answers, found no questions relating to Internet freedom in South Korea. 
Power blogs: A review of South Korea’s top twenty sociopolitical “power blogs” found minimal discussion by bloggers on freedom of expression issues related to the Internet, indicating disinterest by the bloggers and their readers on the topic. A few examples of the comments that were located are listed below.
- Current affairs photo blogger “Boramirang,” who has had more than 11 million visitors since September 2007, criticized the prosecutor’s office as being “insane” for arresting the popular blogger “Minerva” (boramirang.tistory.com, 11 January 2009). The posting had two irrelevant comments and had no more views than his other postings.
- Similarly, blogger, author, and former antigovernment protestor, Cho’ng Ch’o’l-sang — who has had over 400 million visitors since June 2007 — expressed anger on his blog when one of his postings was taken offline for 30 days, following a complaint by a government office (careernote.co.kr/, 10 August 2008). The posting had only one comment.
- A few other political bloggers posted their worries over personal information security and the media handling and politicization of the regulations (www.ringblog.net, 8 April 2010; mediatossi.com, 19 November 2008).  
Progressive blogs At the same time, there continues to be interest in the topic of Internet freedom and government regulations by progressive-leaning bloggers and websites. The postings, however, have low visibility, and, therefore, their influence and impact are likely low.
- A review of several prominent progressive bloggers and websites found a notable amount of postings on the online regulations and government control in the last two years. The postings, however, generated very little comment, suggesting that the interest in the issue is limited to Internet users with similar political tendencies.
South Korean netizens appear largely apathetic about the government regulations concerning the use of the Internet. The netizens, however, will likely display more pronounced dissent if they perceive any future government measures as limiting their general Internet use. Seoul’s likely implementation of new Internet regulations to address differing compliance standards for domestic and foreign firms and to keep pace with the rapid expansion of the Internet technology increases this possibility.
- The KCC launched a task force in April to look into complaints by South Korean firms about the unfair advantage Google has because it is not compelled to abide by the domestic Internet law (The Korea Herald, 2 April).  
- Similarly, a growing number of smart phone users accessing the Internet in South Korea are exposing the country’s unchanged Internet regulations as imposing on the ROK’s IT industry marketability (27 July).
The apparent apathy of South Korean netizens, however, may possibly be due to self-imposed censorship.
- According to Reporters Without Borders, Seoul’s “excessive means” of regulating the Internet ” has prompted netizens to practice self-censorship.” 
1 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20071004971026 | 4 October 2007 | | ROK’s Yonhap: Real-Name Scheme Conducive To Cutting Cyber Slandering: Poll | | (U) | (U) | Seoul Yonhap in English — Semiofficial news agency of the ROK. URL: http://www.yonhapnews net/Engservices/3000000000 html]
2 [Internet Site | | Korea Communication Commission | 2009년 제한적 본인확인제 적용대상 사업자 선정 | 1/30/2009 | | http://www kcc.go.kr/user.do?mode=view&page=P05030000&dc=K05030000&boardId=1042&boardSeq=15512 | 8/11/2010 | Korean-language of the Korea Communication Commission.]
3 [Internet Site | | Cyber Terror Response Center — Organization’s History | | n/a | | URL: http://www netan.go.kr/eng/about/history.jsp | 28 July 2010 | Website of South Korean National Police Agency’s Cyber Terror Response Center in English.]
4 [Internet Site | | Cyber Terror Response Center — Organization’s History | | n/a | | URL: http://www netan.go.kr/eng/about/history.jsp | 28 July 2010 | Website of South Korean National Police Agency’s Cyber Terror Response Center in English.]
5 [Internet Site | | Cyber Terror Response Center — Cyber crime types | | n/a | | http://www netan.go.kr/eng/crime/type.jsp | 11 Aug 2010 | Website of South Korean National Police Agency’s Cyber Terror Response Center in English.]
6 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20080514971078 | 14 May 2008 | | Yonhap: ROK Considering 7-10 Day Delay of US Beef Import Sale Amid Protests | | (U) | (U) | Seoul Yonhap in English — Semiofficial news agency of the ROK. URL: http://www.yonhapnews net/Engservices/3000000000 html]
7 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20080630971031 | 30 June 2008 | | ROK’s Yonhap: Government Shifts To Clampdown on US Beef Protesters | | (U) | (U) | Seoul Yonhap in English — Semiofficial news agency of the ROK. URL: http://www.yonhapnews.net/Engservices/3000000000 html]
8 [Internet Site | | Reporters Without Borders | Countries under surveillance | n/a | | http://en rsf.org/surveillance-south-korea,36667 html | 30 July 2010 | English-language website of Paris-based organization, Reporters Sans Frontiers. URL: www.en rsf.org]
9 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20100315971095 | 15 March 2010 | | Yonhap: (LEAD) S. Korea Listed in Internet Censorship Watchlist: Rights Watchdog | | (U) | (U) | Seoul Yonhap in English — Semiofficial news agency of the ROK; URL: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr]
10 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20090114041002 | 14 January 2009 | | ROK Daily: Far-fetched Claim | | (U) | (U) | Seoul The Korea Herald Online in English — Website of the generally pro-government English-language daily The Korea Herald; URL: http://www.koreaherald.co kr]
11 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20090904971650 | 20 April 2009 | | Yonhap: (3rd LD) Court Finds Controversial On-line Pundit ‘not Guilty’ | | (U) | (U) | ]
12 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20090904971742 | 21 April 2009 | | ROK Daily: Ngdaily.Joins.Com/_data/sound/2009/04/20221118.Mp3″,”20090421″)’> | | (U) | (U) | ]
13 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20090904971813 | 21 April 2009 | | ROK Daily: Prognosticator ‘Minerva’ Is Acquitted By a Seoul Court | | (U) | (U) | ]
14 [Internet Site | | Korea Blog Award 2009 | 2009 대한민국 블로그어워드 보도자료 | 10 December 2009 | | http://blog.yes24.com/blog/blogMain.aspx?blogid=blogawards | 16 August 2010 | ]
15 [Internet Site | | Free Data & Rankings | Top Site by Domain | March 2010 | | URL: www koreanclick.com/english/information/freedata_rankings.php | 28 June 2010 | English-language website of Korea Click]
16 [Internet Site | | Daum | | n/a | | URL: http://agora media.daum net | 28 June 2010 | Website of South Korean web portal Daum’s Internet board, Agora. Daum is the second most popular Internet portal in South Korea.]
17 [Internet Site | | Naver Chisik-In 지식인 | | n/a | | URL: http://kin naver.com/best/listaha.nhn | 28 June 2010 | Website of South Korean Internet portal Naver’s question and answer board. Naver is ROK’s leading Internet portal.]
18 [Internet Site | Kuman 그만 | RingBlog | 실명제, 한국 인터넷 박제로 만든다 | 8 April 2010 | | URL: www ringblog.net | 28 June 2009 | Internet blog website of South Korean blogger “Kuman.”]
19 [Internet Site | Kim Chong-pae | 시사평론하는 김종배의 블로그 | ‘지만권’ 잡으려다 초가심간 태울라 | 19 November 2008 | | URL: http://mediatossi.com | 28 June 2008 | Internet blog website of South Korean blogger Kim Chong-pae]
20 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20100402971049 | 2 April 2010 | | ROK Daily: Seoul Reconsiders Internet Regulations | | (U) | (U) | Seoul The Korea Herald Online in English — Website of the generally pro-government English-language daily The Korea Herald; URL: http://www koreaherald.co.kr]
21 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20100312971098 | 12 March 2010 | | Yonhap ‘News Focus’: Mobile Internet, Smartphones Challenge ROK Real-name ID Law | | (U) | (U) | Seoul Yonhap in English — Semiofficial news agency of the ROK; URL: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr]
22 [Magazine | | Weekly Kyo’nghyang in Korean | 숫자세상 | 27 July 2010 | 7 | | 3 August 2010 | Weekly journal published by Seoul Kyo’nghyang Sinmun — Progressive, pro-labor daily independently owned by its employee shareholders]
23 [OSC | | OSC ID: KPP20100312971098 | 12 March 2010 | | Yonhap ‘News Focus’: Mobile Internet, Smartphones Challenge ROK Real-name ID Law | | (U) | (U) | Seoul Yonhap in English — Semiofficial news agency of the ROK; URL: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr]
24 [Internet Site | | Reporters Without Borders | Countries under surveillance | n/a | | http://en.rsf.org/surveillance-south-korea,36667 html | 30 July 2010 | English-language website of Paris-based organization, Reporters Sans Frontiers. URL: www.en rsf.org]