Rights body flinches from Big Brother comparison

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : May 12, 2014 - 21:12
  • Updated : May 12, 2014 - 21:12
The state-run rights commission was revealed Monday to have advised staff not to compare government bodies to the fictional dictator “Big Brother,” stirring up controversy about whether it was going out of its way to block criticism of the government.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, standing commissioner Yoo Yoeng-ha recently told one of the NHRCK’s employees not to use the phrase in an official report. The employee had used the term in a report on how to improve Korea’s 13-digit resident registration number system.

He said state-run institutes can potentially misuse the huge amount of personal data they are allowed to amass, comparing possible information abuse to the dictator appearing in George Orwell’s book “1984.” The term is commonly used to refer to an authoritarian figure or rule.

Yoo reportedly said that while he understood the potential hazards of a country holding too much information on its citizens, the phrase “Big Brother” was just not appropriate. He pointed out that most of the data leaks that have ailed Korea over the past few years came from the public sector.

“Yoo may have cautioned against portraying Korea in a negative manner,” said an unnamed official from the NHRCK. Another NHRCK official said that Yoo meant to tell the employee to refrain from using overcomplicated words in an official report.

But Yoo’s comments prompted suspicion that the rights body is deliberately blocking voices of discontent directed toward the government. They coincided with allegations raised last month by a local media outlet that the government was regulating unfavorable expert comments.

Earlier this month, the NGO Freedom House announced that press freedom in Korea ranked only 68th among the countries and territories evaluated, down four notches from the year before.

A local human rights activist said banning the popular literary reference is not justified, pointing out that it is commonly used around the world to explain the possible dangers of authorities establishing control over people by collecting information.

Several media outlets across the globe, most recently the Boston Globe, have used a Big Brother reference to raise the alarm about government abuse of personal information.

By Yoon Min-sik (