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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Careful What You Say – Hyeong Nim is Watching

Yes, Korea has a big brother (hyeong nim) and he’s watching the internet very carefully.  This week the Korean courts found “Minerva” not guilty of violating the electronic communications law. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still watching and listening and reading what is said on the internet here in Korea. Nor does it mean that because he was found not guilty you are still free to say what you want.

‘Minerva,’ for those of you who haven’t kept up with Korean current events, was quite active last summer with his economic predictions of gloom and doom for the Korean economy. Many people likened it to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. He was charged with publishing misleading financial information detrimental to the public interest. He used the internet name of Minerva to hide his real name, Park Dae-sung, quite possibly because he had no formal training in finance or economics and was simply blathering. No matter, because plenty of Koreans believed his predictions, some of which actually became true such as the Lehman Brother collapse, and even considered him to be an economic leader to be revered. The danger, according to the Korean laws, is that one if becomes influential he or she must take pains to insure that their writings do not cause undue turbulence and damage. Park’s postings included such crazy notions that Koreans should stock up on various food stuffs due to rising prices (prices fell) the government would halt foreign currency exchange (they didn’t) and that they would stop buying dollars (they didn’t)

So, while he was acquitted, it wasn’t because he wasn’t causing public harm. It was because the prosecution had a difficult time proving that he had posted the writings in full knowledge that his information was false and that he did so with a clear intent to cause harm to the public.2496313866_f79f9f593d

Koreans are wary of anything that might cause another financial uproar or potential mad cow outrage.

So what? You might ask. What does that mean to the average foreigner in Korea? One thing to be concerned about is that you are not guaranteed anonymity here in Korea. The officials rooted out Minerva and exposed his true identity.  The second, and more important point, is that you cannot write things on the internet that are damaging to the public health or safety – or even appear to be so. Free speech isn’t quite so free.

Censorship is alive and well here in the Land of the Morning Calm. According to Wikipedia, inflammatory posts have been deleted by police, bloggers have been arrested and some websites have even been blocked.  Even internet heavy hitters are running scared. Google is facing an investigation for its refusal to abide by a law that it must verify the real names of Korean users if they upload files or leave comments. They recently disabled their Korean youtube site so they wouldn’t have to collect people’s real names.

But wait, that’s not all! Buy a Korean hand phone, and we’ll throw in 10 Ginsu knives!  (A reference to some very lame American TV commercials) The Korean government is now trying to pass legislation that will use the GPS features in hand phones to track your location in real-time.  All communication operators, including telephony carriers and Internet companies, will be required to operate surveillance equipment and save call recordings and log-on records of their users.  Even what you say on your land-line or hand phone may be recorded in the very near future.

Given all that, should you be worried? It depends on what you say.

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