SEOUL (June 23, 2012) —Speaking on Internet freedom in Asia and the Pacific at the East-West Center International Media Conference, constitutional law professor Kyungsin Park painted the Korean Internet as a chaotic mire where government policies can harm innocent users, and criminals rove unchecked.
The crux of the problem, he said, is a law that requires users on heavily trafficked portals — those with more than 100,000 daily page views — to register their personal identification data before they can post anything. Park says seven studies have not been able to report conclusively that the law decreases illegal activity.
“People posting illegal content intentionally will use someone else’s identity data. … There are these services on the Internet selling identity data for two, three cents per person,” Park said. “When people post illegal content intentionally, using someone else’s identity, the police have no way of detecting such activity.”
Moreover, Park said, the verification system isolates Korean websites and, consequentially, dams the flow of ideas and innovation.
“We live in a world where 6 billion people out there cannot reach the Korean Internet services because they don’t have any [Korean national] identity data to submit to them,” he said. “There is no interchange, there is no open and free discussion or exchange of information between the 50 million people living here and the 6 billion people living out there.”
The Korean government’s behavior fits a pattern outlined by Citizen Lab research manager Masashi Crete-Nishihata, another speaker on the panel.
Crete-Nishihata and Citizen Lab conceptualized four phases of Internet regulation that governments move through – not as discrete periods of time, but as layers that affect how the next phase will unfold.
In the first stage, “open commons,” which he said was prevalent until the 1990s, the Internet was not regulated, and was thought to be impossible to regulate.
He labeled the second phase, which emerged roughly between 2000 and 2005, “access denied.” In this stage, governments began viewing the Internet as something to regulate and control. The growing number of Internet filters in authoritarian as well as democratic states typifies this level of Internet development, he said.
The third phase, spanning from 2005 to the present day, is “access controlled.” During this phase, he said, governments move away from blanket denial of information towards a more complex, aggressive manipulation of the Internet. This can include network manipulation, cyber espionage or a push of government-friendly information.
Crete-Nishihata and Citizen Lab think most countries, including South Korea, are now entering the fourth level, which he called “access contested.” All the elements of the previous stages remain relevant, but actors struggling for or against Internet regulation now do so in a more public arena and must take popular opinion into account.
“We really feel this is a watershed moment for us,” Crete-Nishihata said. “The stakes are becoming much higher than just the denial of information.”
— Reporting by Adam Aton, Missouri School of Journalism