Controversy is brewing over the pros and cons of a bill that would obligate netizens to fully disclose their usernames in posts and comments online.
A National Assembly subcommittee approved an amendment to the information and communications network act late last month, mandating the so-called “quasi-real name system” to protect victims from malicious comments.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Park Dae-chool of the People Power Party, calls for the full disclosure of the usernames of those who post or comment on portal sites with an average daily user count of more than 100,000.
“Initially, the bill was pushed forward by disclosing both Internet Protocol addresses and IDs, but it was not passed in the 20th National Assembly because there was a lot of opposition. So we took a step back to revealing only IDs. I don’t think it violates freedom of expression much,” Rep. Park told The Korea Herald by phone.
“Freedom of expression is important, but many people suffer from too much malicious comments from people hiding behind anonymity. I believe the bill ensures maximum anonymity and minimal accountability,” he said.
If the law is passed during a National Assembly plenary session, it will apply to sites such as the nation’s largest portal site, Naver, and its second-largest, Daum. Currently, usernames on Daum are already fully public, as is a person’s comment history if one clicks the user profile. On Naver usernames are only partially revealed, while comment histories are visible.
Naver has the largest number of users at around 80 percent of the market, while Daum has about 15 percent.
Park admitted the bill would not make a big difference on the two largest portals, but said, “If the entire (username) is revealed (for Naver), wouldn’t the netizens write with more responsibility?”
In a poll, more South Koreans agreed that names should be revealed in comments to make the process more transparent.
According to a survey conducted by Hankook Research in November, 80 percent of the respondents agreed to the introduction of a real-name system to prevent malicious comments. Only 9 percent opposed it.
The National Police Agency said the number of police complaints related to cyber defamation and insult doubled from 8,880 in 2014 to 16,633 in 2019.
But the government, along with industry and civic groups, oppose the quasi-real name system, saying it would be ineffective in reducing malicious comments and could violate the right to freedom of expression.
“The mandatory disclosure of IDs is not much different from an unconstitutional real-name system,” said a joint statement from the civic groups Minbyun-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Open Net and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.
A real-name system was introduced in 2007. Users had to go through a verification process before they could leave messages or comments on portal sites. But the Constitutional Court ruled the real-name system unconstitutional in 2012, and it was abolished after five years.
At the time, the Constitutional Court said, “The freedom of expression, which is the basis of democracy, is limited, which dampens expression.”
Mentioning the risk that personal information could be kept for a long time and then leaked, it added, “This treats all citizens as potential criminals due to convenience in investigation.”
The Ministry of Science and ICT and other related ministries also told the National Assembly that a “cautious approach is needed.”
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org