A Great Step Forward
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
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
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
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