South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Thursday announced that the advantages of allowing enlisted soldiers to carry and use their mobile phones during working hours outweighed the disadvantages based on the outcomes of a previous pilot program.
The military will conduct another, larger-scale pilot program targeting 20 percent of all soldiers from July to December this year. Only 5 percent were subject to the two-month test operation conducted from June to December last year.
South Korean enlistees have been able to use their individual phones from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends since July 2020. Soldiers are not allowed to carry mobile phones except during designated usage times.
The upcoming pilot program will carefully examine the merits and demerits of extending the possession and usage time of soldiers’ mobile phones from after the morning roll call until 9 p.m.
The Defense Ministry had put three options on the table in terms of the mobile phone use of conscripted soldiers: using mobile phones only after work hours; during and after work hours; or all day long.
But the pilot program conducted last year showed that the option of allowing enlistees to carry and use mobile phones during and after work hours resulted in the best outcome.
The Defense Ministry explained that the policy shift led to “improved conditions of military service as well as having positive effects on unit and personnel management by junior leaders.”
Soldiers particularly expressed overwhelming opinions in favor of using their mobile phones during lunchtime, as most consultations with banks, travel agencies, academies, and call centers occur during the day.
The ministry also said that extending mobile phone usage has made it easier for officers to manage troops.
“When soldiers carry their mobile phones during work hours, military officers are very satisfied with the increased efficiency in checking complaints and delivering orders,” one official said, adding the policy shift would reduce unnecessary gathering and broadcasting within units.
The Defense Ministry said measures had been established to prevent negative effects of extended mobile device usage. In particular, soldiers will not be allowed to possess mobile phones during duty shifts, guard duty and large-scale or outdoor training exercises.
The South Korean military will also reinforce punishments that can be imposed for violating guidelines.
The ministry, however, was unable to provide answers when asked how to handle a situation should the policy change potentially lead to an increase in cybercrimes committed through mobile phones, such as illegal gambling and digital sex crimes.
More than 1,500 mobile phone crimes were committed by South Korean enlistees from July 2020 to March 2023, according to data provided by the military police of the Army and Air Force.