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May 18, 2014 | by  | in Features Online Only |
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The Future of Internet Anonymity

The internet is an amazing thing, relatively new in human history. You will come across various topics ranging from politics to finding out how you are a fag OP.  The most important feature of the internet that enables uninhibited discussions on variety of topics is anonymity. Anonymity is what separates the internet from real life. However, there has been series of potential laws challenging internet anonymity worldwide and in New Zealand. The NSA scandal, NZ spying bill, and recently emerged cyber-bullying bill are a few examples. You’ve probably read about it, but you don’t really care about it. It feels distant. How can it affect you? How bad can it be? The current situation in South Korea may give you some ideas about one of many possibilities how this could end up affecting you.

What do you know about South Korea? It’s the country that gave birth to the infamous Gangnam Style. It also is the country with the fastest internet connection in the world. Despite having the fastest internet, it also has one of the most controlling internet access regimes in the world.

The veil of anonymity is transparent in South Korea. First off, a lot of  websites require a social security number and a cell-phone under your name to which they will send a confirmation code to. This already ties you down to your alias. There are anonymous websites which only requires a username and a password, but it does not necessarily mean you are anonymous.

Firstly, in South Korea you will be held accountable for things you say on the internet. Insults over the line (note: not extensive ongoing cyber-bullying, just insults) can result in a charge of contempt as long as they satisfy necessary elements. I tried to find the exact details of these elements but I could not find absolute authority that clarifies the law. The general consensus is if the insult is humiliating and clearly targeted at you, you may sue the person for contempt. Let us say I am playing an online team game where I am playing very badly, making my team lose the game. One guy insults me throughout the game, and after the game is over continues to strongly insult me. I tell the guy to stop, and he continues. I screenshot the conversation history and go to the police station to sue him. The police investigate, find him and send a letter of summons to his mailbox. He will be given two choices: either pay a fine with a minor criminal record (which could be  a major hurdle for some career paths) or settle with me, paying an agreed sum ranging from $500~$1000 and the police will drop the charge. This led ingenious trolls to ‘bait’ people by posting extremely unpopular opinions on popular Facebook pages (often of a political nature) and raking in settlement money. Korea; where good trolling can equal money. Insulting a celebrity on a comment section of an online newspaper article or over twitter can also led to charges. Kim Ga-Yeon, a Korean celebrity, is infamous for suing countless people for insults and defamation.

<Identifying bait : a very useful talent toi have in Korean internet>

Secondly, not only can you get sued for online insults, you may also get sued for piracy. Let us say you download a popular novel using a torrent. Three months later, you get a letter from a law firm that says they will pursue charges for piracy. You are given a choice to settle with them for $2000+. Often people who got caught in this would be young adults whose parents end up paying the settlement fee. This was rampant for a time until a high-school student committed suicide after getting the letter for the second time. After public outcries, the police will now only punish extremely heavy downloaders and uploaders.

Lastly, the South Korean government censors certain websites that are deemed “bad” (anti-social, promoting communism, immoral and etc.). So all North Korean websites are blocked and most importantly (for young adults), all pornographic websites are banned. Yep, pornography is illegal in Korea. If you attempt to access a porn site or God forbid a North Korean website in South Korea, you will be redirected to

To be honest, it is extremely satisfying to read blog posts detailing the aftermath of reports to the police. Most of the people charged deserve it. They go to extreme lengths to insult the victim in every way possible under a false sense of security provided by their anonymity. Mighty and relentless in front of a keyboard, they are humbled in real life, apologising profusely for their lapse of judgment, pleading mercy saying they will never do it again. Piracy as well is arguably “bad”, and I suppose we should shield innocent children and young adults from the ‘corrupting’ influence of immoral materials. Whatever. Putting aside other solid arguments, I can bring myself to understand the “good” intent of the law-makers. But these laws are ineffective. Anyone who does some research can avoid these charges. Using proxies will let me insult anyone however much I want, download anything I want, and access any websites I want. They will only punish young, ignorant and unlucky people. The law isn’t even clear. One search of the contempt law yielded countless websites saying different things and confused comments of people desperately trying to find out whether their insult amounted to a chargeable offence (as people will often just threaten to sue after being insulted online). Maybe anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in people, but there are also rare gems buried in the mud. We need to learn how to deal with the negativity (by just ignoring it) rather than trying to control it and lose its uniqueness.

I highly doubt the internet in New Zealand will become as controlled as South Korea. But then, no one -including me- in South Korea thought it would be like this now in the year 2000. Maybe it’s time for us, the silent majority, to pay a little bit more attention to laws being passed and voice our concern a little bit more to keep the internet the way it is: anonymous.

James Kim

Quick-edit/Proof-read by Scott Fletcher


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