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Korean online protesters may
face persecution

Observers fear that a recent Korean government raid of a noncommercial Internet service provider will have chilling effect on speech in cyberspace.

Previously, the South Korean Information and Communications Ministry has proposed a ratings system that would force web site creators to label themselves if their materials could somehow be considered harmful to teenagers. A Ministry spokesperson explained that once the ratings system was implemented, websites with controversial content could then be blocked off. The agency intends to submit this bill to the National Assembly within the next few months, and the entire system could be up and running by mid-2001.

Subsequently, hundreds of enraged Internet users simultaneously visited the Ministry's home page and disrupted service for hours, apparently as part of massive "virtual sit-in" protest-a form of demonstration that is generally considered legal in Korea. However, Korean police officers soon showed up at the offices of Jinbonet, an Internet service provider for noncommercial users. The officers demanded that organization hand over numerous personal information files regarding Jinbonet subscribers, apparently without a warrant. Though the ISP initially refused to comply with these demands, after continued pressure from investigators, government agents eventually did gain access to Jinbonet log files.

Since then, Jinbonet issued a statement condemning the government's actions and noted that state officials have had a history of using criminal investigations as a pretext to stifle dissent: "Jinbonet has received threats from many investigative agencies in an attempt to obtain information about Jinbonet users. To inspect hard disks which have information of not only the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Korean Women's Group United, Green Korea United, but also many users can be regarded as censuring their online activities and if many hard disks were to be confiscated, the Jinbo Network Center could not exist."

To read a JinboNet statement on these events, visit

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For further information on Korean government Internet rating plans, visit