Thursday, July 07, 2005

'Real Names' in Korean Cyberspace

After blogging about being inundated with 'Cyber Terror' articles and editorials, an editorial appeared on June 30 in the Joongang Ilbo titled 'Rein in online anonymity'.
Saying that people have to take responsibility for their actions even in cyberspace, Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan has announced that the government will introduce a system requiring Internet users to use their real names. "It will be possible to search for information or play games anonymously, but it is a problem when people criticize or in ‘flame' others while in hiding," he said. He also said that it is not right to exercise freedom of expression without taking responsibility for it.

the threat to privacy can be prevented by developing a system that can verify a user's identity by means other than the residential registration number. At any rate, it is in the basic spirit of the Constitution that the rights of victims deserve protection as much as people's freedom of expression does.

The Internet must no longer be used as a deadly weapon. History tells us that the laissez-faire approach never has good results.
Well, maybe it hasn't had such good results in South Korea, where it's never been allowed to exist, in many ways. Another 5 year economic plan anyone?

The next day, on July 1 the Joongang Ilbo gave us this update: 'Ban on Web aliases set for October'.
The Ministry of Information and Communication said that it would establish measures to ban the use of aliases on certain Web sites by October.
The government wants to require Korean Internet users to identify themselves when posting messages on online bulletin boards to prevent "cyber witch hunts."
I can't say I'm all that surprised. There's a bit more information here.

The Korea times posted an article July 3 with the misleading title "8 Out of 10 Internet Users Prefer Real Names". This is misleading mainly because the title refers to the results of one poll (by the Ministry of Information and Communication and Yahoo.co.kr) out of three polls that are reported to have been conducted so far. The results of the other 2 polls found that 65% of Naver users and only 57% of Dreamwiz users supported the ban on aliases. Of course, as with any poll, these results should be taken with a grain of salt. The Joongang Ilbo reported the same day, in an article titled ‘Real name system' wins online support', that the Yahoo poll 'had been ongoing since June 15". Finally, a July 5 article at the Korea Times titled 'Real-Name System Sought for Internet Users' tells us this about the polls:
According to a survey of 7,909 Internet users by Naver (www.naver.com), the nation’s largest Web portal, 65 percent of those polled supported using real names on the Web, while 32 percent opposed it. The survey was conducted between June 13 and July 3.

Another survey of 1,631 people by Yahoo Korea (www.yahoo.co.kr), which was conducted over the same period, showed an even higher percentage. Eighty percent backed the new anti-defamation scheme, dwarfing the 18 percent that objected to it.
It seems to me that the poll to pick as being the most representative would be the Naver poll, and not the Yahoo poll (with its much smaller sample) and it's figure of 80% which is routinely quoted. The article also tells us this:
Rep. Chung Sye-kyun, the party’s floor leader, said, "We will positively consider introducing the "real-name system’’ as the government is also studying a new regulation and a great number of Internet users have expressed their support for it in recent surveys.’’

Chung said cyber crimes have steadily increased and the number of such crimes this year is estimated at as much as 10 times that in 2001.
The next day, July 6, saw a number of articles and editorials weigh in on the 'Real Name' system. The Korea Herald, in an editorial titled 'Real name on the Web,' had this to say:
Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan and Information-Communication Minister Chin Dae-je are championing the adoption of the Internet real-name system under which Web site visitors will be required to reveal their real names with resident identification numbers instead of freely chosen nicknames and identity codes. Minister Chin observes that time has come to adopt the real-name system now that the number of victims from cyber terrorism is rapidly increasing. However, some privacy-advocating civic groups oppose the government move, alleging that requiring the writer's real name is tantamount to censorship.

It is hard to understand that the National Human Rights Commission sided with the advocacy groups, claiming that the freedom of Internet-based communication is rooted in anonymity. The commission, which has raised liberal voices within the administration since its inception three years ago on various social issues, argued that any attempt to deny this anonymity amounts to prior censorship.

...[A]uthorities attribute nine suicide cases this year alone to character attacks via Internet.

...[A]n overwhelming majority of "netizens" favor introduction of the real-name system. The survey results seem to strengthen the conviction of ministry officials to start the regulation from the target date, Oct. 1 this year. Technical preparations are needed to ensure no loopholes but there is no justification for much delay.
Hmmm. It's hard to see exactly where the Herald stands. "Privacy-advocating civic groups" - and a Human Rights Commission which raises "liberal voices" (imagine that! I had no idea!). Speaking of seeing where a paper stands, the same day the Hankyoreh surprised no one with this editorial, titled ''Real Names' Not Solution to Internet Problems':
The government and ruling party are talking about implementing a "real name system" for the internet. The government was the first to announce it would consider it, and now the ruling Uri Party has decided to consider it. The idea was talked about in 2003 but things got nowhere because it was so controversial. Now it is back on the drawing board as the "linguistic violence" of the internet has been receiving more attention as a result of the so-called "dog poop girl" episode.

The discussion about "real names" is full of misconceptions and illusions. The most exemplary is the misconception that there is not already a "real name system" in effect. Most of the large portal sites that lead the way in public opinion on the internet already require "real names" at time of registration. At a considerable number of news or government sites you cannot write messages on forums and bulletin boards without confirmation of your identity. Election laws require that people identify themselves on election-related sites [...]

Internet violence is clearly cause for concern. The solution, however, is not total confirmation of identity. The solution is to be found in voluntary self-regulatory effort by sensible users and in internet education.
And rounding out the July 6 articles was this editorial by the Korea Times titled 'Real Name Use on the Web: Cowardly Act Under Pseudonym Should Be Prevented':

The move is timely and right because "cyber violence’’ has gone out of control.It is encouraging that eight out of 10 Internet users support the government’s plan, which the opposition Grand National Party decided to endorse, in principle, on Tuesday.

Of course, there are forces that do not want the new formula because of privacy concerns. In some cases there may be problems with individual information when surfers use their real names and register their citizenship number (social security number) when they make postings on the Web.

But few could deny that abuses of anonymous postings have gotten out of hand, requiring immediate legal measures to check them to help enhance a healthy online culture in the world’s top Internet country.

What is clear-cut is that slandering others under a false name is a cowardly act that must be stopped at any cost to make this society worth living in.

I do have to wonder, if a similar poll had been taken regarding using a real name system before the deluge of articles following the 'Dog Dung Girl', would people have been so receptive to the idea? Just how much is media coverage of 'cyber terror' driving public opinion right now? The Korea Herald tells us that 'an overwhelming majority of netizens' support the measure, while the Korea Times tells us 'eight out of 10 Internet users support the government’s plan', which is interesting when you consider that these two claims are referring to the 80%
of those polled (1,631 people) over at Yahoo Korea. It seems they're willfully ignoring the lower figure of 65% support from a much larger poll at Naver in order to create the illusion of 'an overwhelming majority' supporting the measure.

As to why the ban on web aliases is set for October, a Korea Times article titled Korea to Sharpen Teeth on Cyber Crime', dated May 18th (almost two weeks before the 'Dog Dung Girl'), states that the MIC was considering 'introducing regulations that enable the police to investigate online slander cases without victim complaint', and would decide on whether to include this in a new bill by the end of October. It seems possible this ban on web aliases may be added to this proposed bill, or should I saw 'a proposed bill' - the article's final paragraph is a little confusing. It's ironic that the MIC wants to (presumably) increase the use of resident numbers to identify people online when Information-Communication Minister Chin Dae-je said back in February that identity theft was becoming such a problem that they wanted to replace the resident numbers with a new registration system online.

I'll finish off with this strange article about Genghis Khan that appeared last October titled 'Dominance by ‘nomadic' thinking?'
Many scholars claim that the age of nomads will return in the 21st century. In the era of the Internet, the spacially oriented thinking of settlers will be outdone by the nomadic thinking of pursuing an open society. Samsung Economic Research Institute proposed "Digital Khan" as a keyword for the rebound of the Korean economy.

Boasting one of the world's most extensive digital infrastructures and dynamics, Koreans can dominate cyberspace as Genghis Khan did with physical space. Genetically, 80 percent of Koreans have nomadic genes. The characteristic has contributed to Korea's strength in cyberspace, and we can become the Genghis Khan of the digital world, the institute claimed. In order to achieve the goal, we should create an open society that looks outward instead of inward and pursues the future instead of the past.
Ignoring the obvious 'smoking crack' cracks (like how a group of people with 80% nomadic genes created the almost-impervious-to-change agriculture-based Chosun dynasty, for example), I do have to wonder if creating a 'real name system' is part of this goal of creating an 'open society', especially considering how difficult it can be for foreigners to take part in Korean cyberspace.

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