The Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday that it would screen all smartphone applications and renew the blacklist of pro-North Korean or anti-government mobile apps.
It will be the first full-scale crackdown by military authorities on smartphone programs. The ministry said it would base its list on the Korea Telecommunications Commission’s guidelines.
It will either have to find technological methods to block soldiers from accessing such applications or forcibly delete the applications from individual phones, the local Munhwa Ilbo daily reported.
The decision to probe all mobile apps came amid mounting criticism of two army units’ “voluntary” orders that their troops delete 11 applications from their smartphones, claiming they are pro-North Korean.
The blacklist included an app for “Naneun Ggomsuda,” one of the world’s most downloaded political podcasts, which claims to draw an estimated 10 million listeners per episode. The program is focused on criticizing the Lee Myung-bak administration. It has not aired any favorable comments about the communist North Korean regime or military.
A ministry insider told an online news media source Monday that the ban on “Naneun Ggomsuda” may have been inevitable because it ridicules the commander-in-chief, which could be a threat to the foundation of the country.
“It is like insulting your own parent,” he said.
The Center for Military Human Rights on Monday filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission, asking for its opinion on whether the order is an infringement of basic rights, such as the freedom of speech.
The civic group said the ban of mobile apps violates Constitution Article 21 guaranteeing soldiers’ right to know and Article 17 on privacy protection.
“Soldiers are also members of a society who have the right to express their political ideas. The fact that the military authorities can rummage around soldiers’ personal belongings, including smartphones, and determine what they can listen to and what they cannot is a very dangerous idea,” the group stated in their petition.
Lim Tae-hoon, head of the center, blasted the Defense Ministry.
“In July 2008, the military blacklisted 23 books as being harmful to the mentality of soldiers, and banned soldiers from possessing them. It is believed to be behind the orders this time, too. The authorities must take responsibility for the deletion and ignorance of the rights of the soldiers,” he said.
Local media, however, see the ministry as unlikely to reverse its stance. The Constitutional Court in October 2010 ruled in favor of the action to ban the books.
“Given the special environment inside the barracks, the authorities have the right to protect soldiers from content that could slacken discipline,” the justices said.
By Bae Ji-sook (email@example.com)