What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
The revised Telecommunications Business Act, more familiarly known to South Koreans as the Nth Room Prevention Law, went into effect on Friday, December 10, 2021, making large internet platforms legally responsible for removing illegal content from their servers. The revision was proposed last year, when public outrage was sparked by a criminal case involving use of the Telegram messaging app for blackmail, cybersex trafficking, and the sharing, sales, and purchase of sexually exploitative videos of over 100 women, 26 of them minors. The law was eventually passed last May with 170 out of 178 votes in favor, and 2 against. In accordance with the revised law, large internet platforms with annual sales of ₩1 billion, or 100,000 or more daily users, implemented on Friday a government-developed program designed to filter videos shared to group chat rooms and internet message boards.
The same day, Lee Jun-seok, the leader of the People Power Party posted a statement on Facebook:
… The amendment to the Telecommunication Business Act, dubbed the Nth Room Prevention Act, which was passed amidst public outrage at the Nth Room incident, has now become an issue because of the vagueness of its standards and the potential to seriously infringe on the freedom of communication guaranteed by Article 18 of the Constitution. In addition, it is difficult to apply this legislation to Telegram, which became a distribution channel in the Nth Room case, and it is consequently an ineffective measure.
We will actively pursue revisions at the party level.
— Lee Jun-seok, leader of the People Power Party, December 10, 2021.
On December 11, a student from Kumoh National Institute of Technology also asked a question about the Nth Room Prevention Law during a question and answer session with the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung. Lee answered:
The law on regulating the Nth Room is now in effect, and it seems that some people are objecting to it, arguing that it is similar to censorship, but I do not think so. Freedom of expression is great. Freedom of the press and expression are great. But all freedoms and rights have limits. There are fundamental and legal limitations.
The fundamental limitation is that “if I have rights, others have rights”. Rights come with obligations. With authority comes responsibility. What I do to enjoy myself should not cause pain to others. Defaming someone, damaging someone’s future, or inflicting pain on someone, these actions should not be used to claim my own freedoms and rights.
Second, there are legal limitations. We made an agreement, and if we made an agreement, we have to follow that agreement. Isn’t this a private democracy? Once the National Assembly made a law, and there were all kinds of debates in the process, but once we have an agreement, we have to follow that agreement. You have to follow the rules. You have to follow the law. …
Freedom of expression has those two limitations, and freedom of the press is the same. The press is the most basic mechanism that allows the people to make proper decisions in the era of democracy, especially private democracy. So we have to protect the press. The press shouldn’t be recklessly oppressed. Those are all correct statements. But when the Constitution gives the press privileges and protections to guarantee a democratic system, they use it to promote their own interests by adding fake news to cloud the people’s judgment. Isn’t that a threat to the age of democracy? As I said earlier, with authority comes responsibility. With rights come obligations. … Publishing fake news in the name of the media like “Lee Jae-myung received money from somewhere” clouds the judgment of the people and threatens the democratic system, so strict sanctions should be imposed. It’s the same for the Nth Room issue. Since too much harm is caused, compared to the amount of freedom enjoyed by a few people, and also since it disturbs the public order, we shouldn’t allow it.
— Lee Jae-myung, Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate, December 11, 2021.
In contrast, Yoon Suk-yeol, the People Power Party’s presidential candidate, took a strong stance against the law:
There is confusion and strong backlash against the implementation of the “Nth Room Prevention Act”.
The Nth Room Prevention Act is insufficient to prevent a second Nth Room case, while giving the vast majority of good citizens the fear of censorship. In one online community, someone remarked that even a “cat video” had been censored and could not be shared.
Of course, heinous crimes such as the distribution of illegal films and digital sex crimes must be blocked and severely punished.
However, there are other important principles and values to consider. In particular, the possibility of breaching the privacy of communication is an issue that should be taken seriously in liberal democracies. Article 18 of the Constitution of Korea stipulates that “the privacy of correspondence of no citizen shall be infringed”.
If videos of cute cats and loved ones are also subject to censorship, how can such a country be a free country?
Party Leader Lee Jun-seok has already said, “We will actively pursue revisions at the party level.” I agree. We will come up with measures to prevent crimes and to stop the breach of the privacy of communication.
— Yoon Suk-yeol, People Power Party’s presidential candidate, December 12, 2021.
Even though the revision to the law was passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, Lee and Yoon, who had not been part of the 20th National Assembly which passed the bill, expressed their objections. Their comments angered Jang Hye-yeong, a member of the National Assembly for the Justice Party, who accused the two of merely parroting the complaints voiced in predominantly male internet communities, in order to agitate the public, rather than taking responsibility and coming up with measures to address the holes in the law:
As soon as the “Nth Room Prevention Law” was enacted, the People Power Party’s leader Lee Jun-seok and presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol launched another political agitation with the support of male-dominated internet communities. Their target this time was the “Nth Room Prevention Law”.
Even though the bill was passed with the approval of the majority of lawmakers from their own party near the end of the 20th National Assembly, they are now agitating with vague details and references to public outrage.
But what they are doing is practically spitting on their own faces. I know that they are a party leader and a presidential candidate without any experience in the legislative branch, but they clearly do not know that fundamentally they are also responsible for the laws that were passed by both the ruling and opposition parties. I don’t know what kind of politics they intend to pursue if they don’t even realize that.
If what party leader Lee Jun-seok says is true, then the People Power Party’s lawmakers, who voted in favor of the bill at the time, passed a vague and ineffective bill that infringed on freedom of communication, so he would have to demand explanation at the party level from those responsible. However, neither party leader Lee nor presidential candidate Yoon have said anything about that. This is truly the pinnacle of irresponsibility.
With even a minimal understanding of party politics as the party leader or the presidential candidate, you cannot irresponsibly attack a bill to which the party has agreed from its first day in effect.
According to the National Police Agency, there were 2,623 cases of illegal sexual exploitation of children in 2020, which is a fourfold increase from 756 cases in 2019. In this situation, the Nth Room Prevention Law is a piece of legislation created with the awareness that it should be possible to preemptively block the digital distribution of sexual exploitation videos, including regulating the distribution platforms and holding them accountable.
With the enforcement of this law, the Korea Communications Standards Commission provides filtering technology to private companies so that each company can filter out digital sexual exploitation via deep learning without having to check the countless data one by one. To protect the confidentiality of private communication, the application of this technology is limited to information that is publicly circulated, excluding the private conversations of individuals.
Of course, no law in this world is perfect. The same is true for the Nth Room Prevention Law. In a discussion meeting held a few days ago to look back on the year of enactment of the law, which I hosted with National Assembly member Kwon In-suk of the Democratic Party of Korea, various opinions were raised about the necessity of supplementary legislation.
In order to find a way to keep our people safe from digital sexual violence, to balance the legal interest of protecting the privacy of communication with the legal interest of protecting citizens from digital sexual violence, and to find a way for service providers outside our jurisdiction to follow the norms we set, what we need now is not irresponsible political agitation without substance but responsible political deliberation.
I cannot think of a single thing that has improved in Korean society during Lee Jun-seok’s decade-long political career, which began with him sitting right next to former President Park Geun-hye. Now, I want to see politics that establishes and nurtures public values rather than the politics of bickering and fighting.
— Jang Hye-yeong, member of the National Assembly for the Justice Party, December 12, 2021.
Considering that the revised law still excludes monitoring of public chat rooms on Telegram, such as those which were used to share illegal videos in the Nth Room case, the law clearly does need to be looked at once again. It would be interesting to hear what the People Power Party’s National Assembly members have to say about the criticisms against a bill that the party fully supported last year.