Touching more directly on online content is Article 44(7) of the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Data Protection, which lists “obstruction of business” as a punishable crime. In a high-profile case related to the abovementioned anti-U.S. beef protests, two-dozen members of the online community established to coordinate the 2008 newspaper boycott effort were charged with obstructing business under Article 44(7). All were found guilty in the initial trial in February 2009, though nine were exonerated in an appeal in December of that year.Internet users have also faced prosecution under Article 93 of the Public Official Election Act for circulating election-related information during the restricted period before balloting. In April 2010, a 43-year-old blogger faced charges for running an informal poll about the approaching regional elections and making the results public through his Twitter account. He subsequently expressed his intention to take his case to the Constitutional Court and challenge the regulations restricting such dissemination of information.44 During the same round of regional elections held in June 2010, Bae Ok-byeong, an education activist, was prosecuted for advocating for a free school meal program; the case was pending at year’s end.A copyright law that restricts file sharing was passed in May 2009 and came into effect two months later. Often referred to as the “three-strikes rule,” it allows the government to shut down an entire online bulletin board after a third warning to take down pirated content. Internet companies and civil liberties advocates have raised concerns that this is an excessive scheme which could threaten fair use and free expression.In a positive development, the Constitutional Court ruled in December 2010 that Article 47 of the Telecommunications Business Act (TBA) was unconstitutional.47 The provision, which had been used as the basis for numerous prosecutions of bloggers, prohibited individuals from disseminating “false information” over the internet with the intent of harming the public interest, a vaguely defined term. Violations were punishable by BO0000000033_Action=boardView&CP0000000002_BO0000000033_ViewName=board/BoardView&curNum=12 (in Korean).
S. A. Gwak, “9 Netizens Not Guilty for Boycotting Chojoongdong’s Advertisers,” Mediaus, December 18, 2009, http://www.mediaus.co.kr/news/articleView.htmlidxno=8890 (in Korean). There still are ongoing cases against members of the community, which is now a registered activist group called Eonsoju, a Korean acronym for Press Consumers’ Rights.
J. S. Ham, “First Twitter User Booked for Violation of the Election Law; Considering an Appeal to the Constitutional Court,” e-Daily, April 30, 2010, http://www.edaily.co.kr/news/NewsRead.edySCD=DC16&newsid=02450166592941368&DCD=A01405&OutLnkChk= Y (in Korean).
J. G. Park, “Promotion of Free School Meals Not Violation of the Election Law,” Nocut News, February 18, 2011, http://www.nocutnews.co.kr/show.aspidx=1722303 (in Korean).
B. H. Ahn, “The New Copyright Law and ‘the Three-Strikes Rule’,” Digital Times, August 12, 2009, http://www.dt.co.kr/contents.htmlarticle_no=2009081302011869718001 (in Korean).
Song Jung-A, “S. Korean Court Rules on Internet Law,” Financial Times, December 28, 2010, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/38b354a4-126d-11e0-b4c8-00144feabdc0.html.
SOUTH KOREA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won (US$44,500). The court’s ruling stemmed from the case of Park Dae-sung, a popular financial blogger known as Minerva, who was arrested in January 2009 and charged with upsetting currency markets by spreading pessimistic predictions in an online discussion forum.48 Park was detained for more than 100 days before being acquitted. The Constitutional Court ultimately found that the concept of “public interest” was so “unclear and abstract” that it failed to meet the required standard of specificity for criminal violations.49 The decision may put an end to other investigations into “rumors” disseminated over the internet.
Anonymous communication online is significantly compromised in South Korea, given the real-name registration regime. The system has remained in place despite the national human rights commission’s assertion that it “clearly qualifies as pre-censorship, restricts freedom of internet-based expression rooted in anonymity, inhibits public opinion formation, and contravenes freedom of expression.”50 While users must register their real identities before posting, they are permitted to choose pseudonyms that will appear to the public next to their comments. However, since February 2009, the portal Nate has been requiring users to have their real name displayed when leaving comments.51 The system has encouraged some Korean users to abandon domestic services in favor of their international counterparts.52 Mobile-phone purchase also requires users to provide their RRN if they are Korean citizens.
Regarding surveillance, individual users’ personal information may be made available to the police and the prosecution upon request for investigative purposes, under Article 83(3) of the TBA. According to a recent civil society submission to the UN Human Rights Council, there were 119,280 cases of the acquisition of personal information in 2008.There have also been incidents in which the authorities have failed to follow the appropriate protocol when obtaining such information, raising concerns about internet users’ right to privacy. For example, prosecutors were found to have confiscated seven years’ worth of emails sent or received by Ju Kyeong-bok, a 2008 candidate for the position of education superintendent of Seoul, during an investigation into his possible violation of the election law. In another instance, police were found to have seized e-mails and other data of human Cheon Jong-woo, “South Korea Detains Financial ‘Prophet of Doom,’” Reuters, January 8, 2009, http://af.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idAFTRE50728720090108pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0.
Park Si-soo, “Law on Internet to Prosecute Rumormongers ‘Unconstitutional’,” Korea Times, December 28, 2010, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2010/12/117_78782.html.
La Rue, the UN special rapporteur, has also recommended that the system be abolished. La Rue, “Full Text of Press Statement.” Reporters Without Borders, “Countries Under Surveillance: South Korea,” http://en.rsf.org/surveillance-southkorea,36667.html; Developed by SK Telecom, Nate is one of the major services in the Korean cyberspace. It acquired the country’s biggest social networking site Cyworld in 2003, and its instant messenger NateOn also has been more popular than international alternatives.
B. G. Gu, “Legislator Choi Moon-soon Lists 5 ‘Backward’ Regulations in the Digital Environment,” Hankyoreh, June 24, 2010, http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/economy/it/427362.html (in Korean).
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, “Written Statement.” SOUTH KOREA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net rights activist Park Rae-gun while investigating the “Yongsan tragedy”—an incident in which resistance to the forcible eviction of an area cited for demolition resulted in the deaths of five tenants and a police officer.54 In both instances, authorities did not issue a prior notice of seizure as prescribed by the penal code.55 In another case in 2009, television producers were charged with defaming officials from the Ministry of Agriculture in a documentary related to U.S. beef imports.56 During the investigation, the personal e-mail accounts of the accused were searched, and certain messages were disclosed to the press in June 2009.This raised objections among the legal profession as a potential violation of the law on the protection of communications secrecy and prompted one of the accused to file a lawsuit against the prosecutor’s office and media outlets that carried the content of the messages.
More recently, the Civil Service Ethics Division, which reports directly to the prime minister, was found to have conducted surveillance on a 56-year-old civilian, monitoring his e-mail and credit card records and secretly searching his office. The surveillance was allegedly motivated by the fact that he shared a video of a popular satire that was critical of the current president on a blog at the financial firm where he worked. This revelation was followed by other allegations in the media against the authorities’ abuses of surveillance capabilities against opponents of the president. The officials involved in the surveillance scandal are still under investigation, though at least one top official had resigned by July 2010.There have been no reports of violence against bloggers by government agencies.
However, online vigilantism and cyber-bullying have grown in recent years, as users, many of them teenagers, launch relentless verbal assaults over the internet against celebrities and ordinary users for comments made online or offline. In some cases, the subjects of such attacks have reportedly committed suicide because of the harassment. Theresa Kim Hwa-young, “Christmas Mass for Yongshan Tragedy Victimes,” Asia News, http://www.asianews.it/newsen/Christmas-Mass-for-Yongsan-tragedy-victims-17222.html.
They were acquitted in January 2010, but the prosecutor’s office has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Shin-who Kang, “Is Making Private Emails Public Justified” Korea Times, June 19, 2009, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2009/06/116_47139.html.
John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park, “Agency Spied on South Korean Blogger Critical of President,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/24/world/la-fg-south-korea-probe-20100725.
Sang-hun Choe, “South Korea Links Web Slander to Celebrity Suicides,” New York Times, October 12, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/technology/12iht-kstar.3.16877845.html; John M. Glionna, “Cyber Bullies Reign in South Korea,” Los Angeles Times, January 1st, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jan/01/world/la-fg-korea-cyberthugs22010jan02.
SOUTH KOREA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net THAILAND 2009 POPULATION: 68.1 million INTERNET FREEDOM n/a Not INTERNET PENETRATION: 27 percent STATUS Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: No Obstacles to Access n/a SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: Yes Limits on Content n/a BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes Violations of User Rights n/a PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Partly Free Total n/a INTRODUCTION Although Thai citizens have been posting online commentary for well over a decade,internet users have played a particularly significant role in challenging the established political power structure since the military coup of September 19, 2006. Topics of discussion restricted or censored in traditional print and broadcast media are openly addressed via the internet, in particular issues related to the monarchy. Moreover, both the red-shirted United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and the yellow-shirted supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have utilized digital media and online resources to mobilize constituents for popular protests.This has provoked greater efforts by the government to control the free flow of information and commentary online. Over the past two years, thousands of websites have been blocked and several people prosecuted for disseminating information or views online.
Internet freedom particularly deteriorated after a state of emergency was declared in April 2010; it remained in effect through to late December 2010. Ironically, the large-scale blocking of websites critical of the royal family has further deepened the politicization of the monarchy in the eyes of many Thais, while the increased content restrictions and legal harassment have contributed to greater self-censorship in online discussions. However, Phansasiri Kularb, “Communicating to the Mass on Cyberspace: Freedom of Expression and Content Regulation on the Internet,” in State and Media in Thailand During Political Transition, ed. Chavarong Limpattanapanee and Arnaud Leveau (Bangkok:
Institute de Recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est Contemporaine, 2007).
The PAD is comprised of a grouping of royalists, business elites, and military leaders with support in the urban middle class, while the UDD generally draws its support from the north, northeast, and rural areas, among whose residents former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra remains popular.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net these developments have also helped inspire a burgeoning movement of politically conscious internet users, or “netizens,” who favor greater protections for freedom of expression and are eager to exchange information and views about how Thailand is governed.
The first internet connection in Thailand was made in 1987 between the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), the University of Melbourne, and the University of Tokyo.