South Korea plans to step up its censorship of its social networking sites and smart phone applications.
The Korea Communications Standards Commission said it will reshuffle departments to make way for a 'review' team that will oversee new media content.
The censorship of traditional Internet content has been in place since 2008.
Social media users and civic groups decried the announcement, saying it clamps down on freedom of expression.
This is an authoritarian and anachronistic abuse of power that strips people of their freedom of expression and political freedom by blocking their eyes and ears, one of South Korea's largest civic organizations, People's Solidarity for
Participatory Democracy, said in a news release.
So far internet censorship has been minimal with 45 cases deemed illegal for obscenity this year, along with 159 deemed to have breached national security.
In 2003, South Korea's conservative Grand National Party (GNP) struck back from losing a presidential race by enacting a new law which required online users to verify their real identities before posting comments on election-related web sites.
The legislation's stated goals were to to promote responsible online discourse and to protect the privacy of candidates, and it has accomplished its purpose to a limited extent. Yet the greater underlying political motive is clear to see --- the
conservative party that relies on older, less internet-savvy Koreans wanted to limit the influence of online media on election results.
In 2007, an election year, the proliferation of anonymous online slander was the stated cause for extending the real-name system to web sites with over 300,000 daily visits.
In 2009, the real-name system was extended to web sites that received over 100,000 web sites per day. As of last year, this law applied to about 150 South Korean web sites.
The government's efforts to control cyberspace have been formidable, but as a result of the real-name policy, South Korean web sites have become prime targets for hacking both from in and outside of the country. The number of hacking incidents
reached a momentous level last year, as a series of high-profile cyber-attacks made it clear that the real-name system was untenable --- the most notorious case being SK Communications' SNS Cyworld, which leaked personal information of over 35
million Koreans, more than half of the national population.
The South Korean government also suffered an embarrassment when Google's YouTube refused to comply to the real-name verification system in 2009. Stating that freedom of expression must be upheld on the internet, Google disabled video upload and
comment functionalities from users accessing the site within S. Korea. Yet users only had to change their country setting in order to upload and comment on the site again, providing a legal loophole which set-off a wide debate within the country.
The incident prompted the KCC to initiate a legal review, and after mulling over whether to punish Google or not, decided to exempt it from the real-name law, which added oil to the fire. Korean companies that have had to comply to the law ---
that had incurred web development, monitoring, and security costs --- cited discrimination that put them at a competitive disadvantage to global companies.
On December 30, 2011, the KCC announced that it will phase out the real-name verification system by 2014. This time, web sites that do not remove resident registration IDs and other sensitive information will be fined.
A law requiring South Korea's internet users to use their real names on websites has been struck down by a panel of judges.
The country's Constitutional Court said the rule restricted freedom of speech and undermined democracy.
The requirement was introduced in 2007 supposedly to tackle cyber-bullying. But the judges said users had switched to overseas sites where they continued to conceal their identity, putting local services at a disadvantage. There had also been
complaints that the system had made it easier for cybercriminals to commit identity theft.
The internet real-name system stipulated that news media sites with more than 100,000 visitors a day had to record the real identities of visitors who had posted comments.
The idea behind the law was that users' details could be disclosed if the victims of malicious reports wanted to sue for libel or infringement of privacy. But the eight judges unanimously voted against the law saying the public gains achieved had
not been substantial enough to justify restrictions on individuals' rights to free speech. They said that the policy discouraged people from criticising influential people and groups because of fears they would be punished.
The South Korean government has laid out plans to install software on teenagers' smartphones that will block supposedly 'illegal [and] harmful information.
The horrendous sounding Ministry Of Gender Equality And Family believes that installing the software will block swear words and slang, as well as prevent cyber-bullying on social and messaging networks such as KaKao Talk, Facebook, and Twitter.
The governmental body will also require a compulsory filtering service for mobile carriers that will block harmful information that includes pornography and nudity.
After a long debate, the South African government has decided to maintain its prohibition of online casino gambling. This was revealsed in a policy document released by the Department of Trade and Industry.
South Africa allows online sports betting though, and this will be allowed to continue. Now National Gambling Act amendments will order ISPs to ban all access to casino websites and forbid financial institutions to process any banking
transactions. Enforcement responsibilities will be undertaken by the National Gambling Regulator.
South Korea's internet censor made a large amount of censorship requests to the social network Tumblr but these were turned down on the grounds that the 'offending' posts did not actually violate Tumblr's policies.
Tumblr received 22,468 requests from the Korean government from January to June to delete posts related to prostitution and porn.
The Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), the country's internet censor, sent 30,200 requests to several internet companies to delete posts related to prostitution and porn. Requests to Tumblr accounted for over two-thirds, totalling
22,468. By comparison, Twitter received 1,771, Instagram 12, and Facebook 5.
Tumblr rejected the requests to censor adult content saying that it had no physical presence in South Korea and was not subject to local laws. It also said it allows wide-range freedom of expression on its service. The company also said posts
reported by KCSC didn't violate its policy.
South Korea will expand its site blocking measures with SNI eavesdropping, so HTTPS sites can be blocked as well. The new measure, which will also affect pirate sites, has generated widespread opposition. While it's more effective than standard
DNS blocking, it's certainly not impossible to circumvent.
When it comes to pirate site blocking, South Korea is one of the most proactive countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Pirate website blocking orders are sanctioned by the Korean Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), which also oversees
other blocking efforts, including those targeted at porn or illegal gambling sites.
While the ISP blockades work well for regular HTTP sites, they are fairly easy to bypass on HTTPS connections, something most sites offer today. For this reason, the Korean authorities are now stepping up their blocking game. This week the
Government announced that it will start eavesdropping on
SNI fields , which identify the hostname of the target server. This allows ISPs to see which HTTPS sites users are trying to access, so these can be blocked if they're on the Korean blocklist.
The new measures will apply to 895 foreign websites that are linked to porn, gambling or copyright infringement.
The new blocking policy is meeting quite a bit of
resistance locally. A petition that was launched earlier this week has been signed by over 180,000 people already and this number is growing rapidly.
The petition warns that this type of censorship is limiting freedom of expression. At the same time, however, it notes that people will find ways to bypass the blockades.
SNI eavesdropping and blocking is useless when people use a VPN. In addition, more modern browsers and companies such as Cloudflare increasingly support encrypted SNI (ESNI). This prevents ISPs from snooping on SNI handshakes.