With so many South Koreans adopting information and communication technology, the South Korean government used the data collected from its citizens to provide better public services. However, its success and other developments may be weakening the political support behind data privacy.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, public health officials have adopted technologies like quick response (QR) code system and GPS mobile apps to log visitors for epidemiological surveillance. These efforts combined with customer information collection via telecommunication companies contributed significantly to slowing the spread of the virus without instituting a lockdown. In response, public opinion towards the government’s data collection also softened.
Simultaneously, the “Nth Room case” – one of the biggest digital sex trafficking rings that ever came to light in South Korea – sparked a national outcry. Revelations that the ring operated mainly on the secure messaging app Telegram, and made transactions using cryptocurrency raised public concerns around platforms that allow encrypted exchanges. More recently, investigations revealed that an increasing number of people in their 10s and 20s are purchasing drugs as dealers have been expanding their operations using Telegram and cryptocurrency.
As these events underscore the need for greater oversight of these spaces, the public mood suggests proposals that constrain data privacy in South Korea may enjoy greater political support. This is not to say that the Korean public will give blanket approval to the government having access to their private information. There have also been persistent concerns over the government’s insufficient protection of the information that they have access to currently. But further revelations on criminal activities taking place on these encrypted platforms may burnish the political arguments in favor of the government gaining greater access to personal data.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sean Blanco, Marina Dickson, and Jina Park. Picture from the flickr account of Yann B