South Korea Cracks Down on Online Porn
By BURT HERMAN, Associated Press Writer
The world's most wired country is raiding cyberspace's red-light
district in a campaign pitting Confucian morals against modern
Since January, the main prosecutor's office in Seoul has issued arrest
warrants for about 100 people charged with spreading obscene material
under South Korea's telecommunications law, a crime carrying penalties
of up to a year in jail or a nearly $10,000 fine.
In a highly publicized case last month, police in the southern city of
Busan arrested the operator of a Web site that offers a forum to
arrange swaps of sex partners. The 36-year-old man, whose name hasn't
been released, is charged with spreading obscene material and remains
jailed while the investigation continues, said Busan police officer
Lee Nam-sik, who is heading the probe.
The campaign comes amid a wider moral crackdown starting last year,
when penalties for prostitution-related crimes also were doubled.
Korea has an active sex trade both online and off. According to the
Korean Institute of Criminology, the amount spent on prostitution
alone amounted to $23.6 billion in 2002, the last year for which
figures were available.
At a recent Cabinet meeting, where the campaign against prostitution
was discussed, President Roh Moo-hyun stressed the need for
establishing a "healthy consumption culture," implying money should be
spent on things other than the sex trade.
In a country where more than 70 percent of homes have high-speed
Internet connections, access to cyberporn is easy.
That means traditional taboos in Korea's conservative, Confucian-based
society have quickly shattered, said Lee Mee-sook, a sociology
professor at Paichai University in the central city of Daejeon.
"The code of ethics became weak, and people started satisfying their
sexual desires through the Internet anonymously," she said.
On a busy street in the center of the South Korean capital Seoul,
"adult" Internet cafes aren't hard to find. In the cafes, customers
can surf the Web in private booths, as opposed to the open rows of
computers found in typical cybercafes.
Authorities "can't really control it because it's the Internet, it's
impossible," said Lee, 28, a worker at the Red Box adult Internet
cafe, who gave only his last name. "We should have the freedom to see
whatever we want."
Web operators insist that adult content appearing on mainstream sites
has been rated by the Korea Media Rating Board, the agency responsible
for setting age recommendations for everything from films to computer
games, and complain that prosecutors have overstepped their authority.
"The portal sites are being accused for what they thought was legal,"
said Lee Yeun-woo of Kinternet, an organization that represents
popular portals such Yahoo Korea, Daum and Naver. "The fine actually
isn't that much. But we want to prove what those sites did wasn't
illegal and want the prosecutors to prove what was wrong."
To get around laws regulating Web site content, some sex sites are
based on Web servers outside South Korea. The Ministry of Information
and Communications is asking Internet providers to block access to
them as well.
Many Korean Web sites require users to enter their national
identification card numbers to confirm their age to access adult
content. But tech-savvy children can use programs to create false
numbers or simply use their parents' IDs instead.
South Korea's constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but contains
the caveat that such expression should neither "violate the honor or
rights of other persons nor undermine public morals or social ethics."
The law doesn't define obscenity, but Jun Ji-yun, a law professor at
Seoul's Yonsei University, said it was understood to be something that
"brings sexual disgrace to people."
Given the sheer volume of Internet pornography, prosecutors realize
they face an uphill battle. They are focusing on larger Web portals
and other well-known sites first, in hopes that their investigation
will draw attention to the issue and serve as a warning, said Kim
Dae-hyun, a Seoul prosecutor.
"There are so many crimes and so many pornography
sites out there," he said. "We cannot deal with all of them with such
a limited amount of people here."
AP reporter In-young Bang contributed to this report.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Well, take the word of someone who
knows what pornographic spam is all about: I get literally tons of it
everyday from South Korea, always in those ascii-attempts-to-translate
Korean into English, you know, the '@@@@@@@@' characters. But I have
installed a Korean language pack from Microsoft I think, and been able
to see the _real thing_ as they put it out, and some of it will indeed
curl your hair. They are downright weird, even in their porn.
Now, an issue or two ago, I suggest a 'good neighbor policy' where we
Americans route all our email/Usenet stuff through China for handling
and I suggest we include South Korea in that. Now you know how the
Chinese government feels about South Korea; they won't listen for a
minute to any of that stuff; they'd just as soon nuke them and be done
with it. Imagine the Chinese government having to hire a couple
million more censors to sit there and trash that stuff all day before
they sent our email and news back to us here in the USA. PAT]