The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Nth room prevention law draws fire for censorship, invasion of privacy

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : Dec. 13, 2021 - 15:14

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Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential nominee of the main opposition People Power Party, speaks at an event Saturday. (Yonhap) Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential nominee of the main opposition People Power Party, speaks at an event Saturday. (Yonhap)
The so-called "Nth room prevention law" is facing growing criticism from the public, with critics accusing the measure of censorship and violation of free speech.

A legislative revision to the Telecommunications Business Act went into effect Friday, requiring internet platforms with yearly sales of 1 billion won ($848,800) or those with more than 100,000 daily users to engage in removing illegal content from their servers.

The revision was nicknamed the Nth room prevention law after a high-profile criminal case that revealed women were being coerced into obscene acts, and the victims’ images and videos were illegally sold and shared in pay-per-view online chatrooms on Telegram.

Yet the legislation was met with fierce criticism after being enacted.

As a precaution, some online communities have introduced automatic filtering processes for content shared on open platforms. But that meant people have had to wait for their post to be reviewed before they are shared publicly.

And even though platform companies were given a six-month grace period before the official enactment, operators say they are still struggling to keep up with the new requirements and have asked for more time to develop the required systems.

The current systems have a tendency to flag posts that do not break the rules, and numerous internet users reported that their messages and posts were being deleted from public "open talk" chatrooms, even though the contents were legal.

Some users shared that even a picture of kittens was censored for possibly violating the law. Many have continued to point out the shortcomings of the Nth room prevention law, which would not have had any effect on the crime it was named after.

Contrary to rumors, the law only allows platforms to make efforts to stop illegal content from being shared on public chat rooms, and it does not allow internet platforms to crack down on private exchanges between individuals or groups.

And Telegram, the encrypted messaging platform on which the Nth room victims' videos and personal information were distributed, is not included in the online platforms under its scope.

The enacted law only mandates the filtering efforts from platforms with operations officially registered in South Korea. Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging system, has its operational center based in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates and has no operational office in South Korea.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential nominee of the main opposition People Power Party, said Sunday his party will seek to amend the related laws to ensure no privacy is violated while preventing illegal contents from being shared in the online sphere.

"The Nth room prevention law lacks the ability to prevent another Nth room crime, but it gives fears of censorship to the absolute majority of innocent people," Yoon said in a Facebook post.

"Article 18 of the Constitution stipulates that the confidentiality of correspondence of all people should not be violated."

The ruling party has insisted that the law should stand as is, as freedom of expression should not be guaranteed so much as to infringe on other people’s rights. Presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung defended the law, saying it does not amount to censorship.

"Many have denounced the law for being censorship, but I don't think of it that way," Lee said in a meeting with college students Saturday. "Freedom of speech and freedom of press are good, but all cases of freedom and rights have limits."

The ruling party has also denounced the People Power Party for changing its stance only after the law faced criticism, as the two parties jointly supported it during the legislative process.

The law had garnered 170 out of 178 votes for official passage at the National Assembly in May 2020, with 50 votes coming from the United Future Party, the predecessor of the People Power Party.