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Military struggles to cope with soldiers’ banned Internet use

The military is striving to tighten discipline in cyberspace as an increasing number of tech-savvy enlisted soldiers are caught breaking rules on Internet use.

While South Korea prides itself on being one of the world’s most wired countries, widespread video recording devices and access to the Internet have created a headache for the military.

The military has been running 82 “cyber patrol teams” in all of its branches around the clock to check if soldiers have illicitly posted any photos or video clips on the Internet that reveal security facilities and other sensitive materials.

It is also operating the teams due to concerns that negative images of the military ― projected in the photos and clips ― could undermine public trust.

The total number of cases in which soldiers violated cyberspace rules was 1,029 between January and March, officials at the Ministry of National Defense said. During the period, some 300 soldiers were reprimanded, they said.

Some of them were given verbal warnings, ordered to stay in their barracks or banned from leaving their installations. Sources said about 10 of them were given short-term confinement.

In one of the cases, a sergeant was punished for posting a video clip on a major portal that shows him harassing some of his subordinates during a training session. In another, a discharged sergeant was caught trying to sell military supplies, which he collected during his service, on an Internet auction site.

Some were caught posting photos of some body parts of their fellow soldiers on the Internet ― which were secretly taken while they were sleeping ― while others were punished for registering photos of soldiers being beaten by their senior soldiers.

Enlisted soldiers appear to take such photos and film activities inside their units with mobile phones they secretly brought in. They are banned from carrying cellular phones with cameras for security reasons.

“Inside military installations, enlisted soldiers are banned from using cell phones, memory sticks and other devices as security is the top priority in the military,” said a military official, declining to be named.

“We are constantly educating them about security in cyberspace. However, it appears that there are some who illegally brought in cameras and took photos of their military installations. Even after they got discharged, they would be punished for spreading such sensitive things online.”

Military rules on cyberspace discipline also stipulate that posting false complaints about their lives at barracks, slanderous remarks about their seniors and videos of military facilities are in breach of the rules.

Each month, cyber patrol teams report their collection of what seem to be cases of lax discipline online to higher military authorities, who then determine whether they violated rules.

Military officials reportedly plan to report violations to Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, as well as measures to enhance discipline in cyberspace.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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