Stop Korean Online Censorship!!

  • No Mandatory Internet Content Rating System!
  • Preserve the Right to Demonstrate Online!  

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A Great Step Forward for [Anti-censorship]
on the Internet

1. A new Internet era has just dawned in South Korea. According to a recent report, Internet users in Korea have reached 16 million, which means most Korean people have access to the internet.
Now many Korean netizens can express their opinions on policy issues through government websites, though we admit that the problem of the  widening economic and regional gap in Internet access has been increasing. Nonetheless, This situation could be regarded as the realization of the Internet's potential as a tool for democracy, which we have expected from the inception of the Internet.
As a communications medium, the Internet is a far more democratic and effective tool compared to other mass media in that every citizen can convey and publicize his or her opinions to policy-makers and other people without having their views edited or filtered.
We have yet to make a decision on whether to transform the potential of the Internet into real democratic power or just give it up as another regulating tool for bureaucrats. A wave of Korean netizens' active and voluntary participation in online demonstrations so far against the proposed legislation on Internet censorship, however, demonstrates  undeniable proof that Korean people are adamantly opposed to the legislation.

2. Civic groups and netizens in Korea have every reason to protest against the proposed "Legislation for Communication Decency", which includes the Internet rating system proposed by The Korean Ministry of Information & Communication, a revised version of the 'Law for Enhancing Communications Network Usage'. The establishment of new laws and governmental organizations to censor and monitor online media and communications could seriously undermine the basic rights of Korean citizens.

There are lots of controversial issues regarding the proposed 'Communications Decency Law'
First, the proposed legislation comes from a bureaucratic mindset that believes that a special regime regulating online activities independent of current laws needs to be established. However, we define the legislation as censorship and an infringement on free speech. It may tighten procedures for monitoring and prosecuting illegal online content but it leaves room for serious violations of basic human rights. The legislation could bring about a situation where every Internet user is regarded as a potential computer crime suspect and where government censorship on the Internet is routine.
Second, the proposed legislation includes the Internet content rating system. The legislation stipulates that the Information Communication Ethics Committee should be given full authority to set rating guidelines and control and monitor the execution of the rating system. This centralized power will actually be government 'censorship'  disguised as 'self-control'. On August 25 2000, by the Seoul Administrative Court  suspended the decision on the film rating system because it could be considered unconsitutional. This ruling supports our case against the law.
3. The Anti-online censorship protest has been the embodiment of public opinion on this questionable legislation. Our efforts have been very sucessful so far. The debate on the proposed Legislation for the Communication Decency law has been so well publicized that the MIC (Ministry of Information and Communication) had no choice but to change the original scenario. A Plan on Reflecting Citizens Opinion proposed in haste by the MIC definitely shows government officials are starting to get worried.

Since the first online protest on August 20, 2000, netizens have voluntarily participated in the [Anti-censorship] online protest and placed hundreds of [anti-censorship] postings against the legislation on the MIC bulletin board. But instead of trying to listen and respond to worried voices from citizens, the MIC blamed the protest participants calling them 'hooligans' and 'ugly Koreans' through newspaper articles. Furthermore, the MIC blamed its website shutdown last Saturday on "hackers" controlled by the online protestors, but then cancelled this announcement the next day, which proves the MIC itself is not sure of the reason for the shutdown. It even condemned our legal online protest as 'cyber terrorism', and  threatened to prosecute the participants on charges of 'interrupting public service'.

What is hacking and cyber terrorism? In this new era of the Internet, citizens are more likely to express their opinions on pending issues through government websites. The government should be ready and prepared to modestly accept the opinions from netizens. The MIC's attitude, however, has been inconsistent with the 'Electronic Government' plan which the governmen has been loudly promoting.

There is nothing new in the so-called 'A Plan on Reflecting Citizens Opinion' proposed by the MIC. The contents of the plan can also be found in the new legislation proposed on August 19th 2000. It is supposed to have been designed to get rid of 'unnecessary noises' from mass media and citizens. But the plan goes nowhere near satisfying demands from Korean civic groups. The civic groups have already noticed that although some controversial parts of the law, such as the 'bad user management' and the ambiguous 'information harmful to youngsters' clauses, have been modified the poison pill of the legislation is not changed at all.

4. This document is a warning to the MIC to change its bureaucratic and undemocratic attitude. The MIC should be ready to accept public opinions expressed through online media. It should not criticize online protestors as criminals. Also the MIC should actively participate in debates on the current issues rather than neglect the opinions of civic groups and netizens. The one-sided attitude of the 'Electronic Government' will only increase the nation's worries over the MIC's concentration of power and online censorship under the proposed Legislation for Communication Decency.

5. We appreciate netizens' voluntary and active participation in the fight against online censorship. The battle for free speech has just begun. By all means, we are going to fight off the MIC's attempt to control cyberspace to the end. Netizens' voluntary and active participation in the online protest will ensure our victory. The potential of the Internet has not yet been realized. We're ready to make every effort to realize this potential, which will ultimately help our endless progress toward true democracy.

Sep 2, 2000  

Korean Progressive Network (Jinbonet)