[News on Korea] Big Brother is Watching You

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A filibuster to stop passage of the “anti-terrorism” bill (introduced by the Saenuri Party and 38 opposition party members) began in the National Assembly on February 23. It ended on March 2nd, 192 hours and 26 minutes later, as the bill was passed with 156 Saenuri Party and 1 People’s Party member in support. Those who oppose it, call it “the 2nd National Security Law” or “Spying Law”. It was first proposed in 2001 by the National Intelligence Service after the September 11 attacks in the United States, but failed to pass under a liberal administration. It was then proposed another eight times  but failed due to its great controversy. It finally passed this year, under a conservative government, under the pretext of the terror attacks in Paris.

The filibuster, which was televised in the National Assembly broadcast, broke a new world record for being the longest. It also awakened public interest and opposition to the bill. At the crux of the anti-terrorism bill are greater powers for the National Intelligence Service. Legal experts claim that, when compared to previous versions, this bill has the greatest potential for abuse by those in power since what is deemed an act of terror is vague. For example, article two of the anti-terrorism bill designates an act of terror as an “act that can put national security and citizens' safety at risk which includes the disturbance of the nation, regional government, and foreign government exercising its authority” or an “act that force the carrying out of unnecessary duties  and threaten the public.” Even “instances where a person is killed or bodily harm is caused” would be considered an act of terror. If in the process of protesting, workers impeded the state’s exercise of power or injured a police officer, their actions would be deemed acts of terror.  

Furthermore, paragraph 3 or article 2 is also vague about what it considers a terrorist suspect. The bill states that a terrorist suspect is a person “who organizes, promotes, fundraises, or donates to a terrorist organization that prepares, conspires, promotes or incites terror or is suspected of such.” If the National Intelligence Service determines that they have a reason to suspect a person then that person becomes a terrorist suspect. This would give them the power to investigate and track personal information (e.g. entry and exit of the country, financial transactions, internet and phone logs) and even sensitive personal information (ideology, beliefs, labor union, political party status, political tendencies, health, sexual activities) and location - which are categorized as sensitive information by the Personal Information Protection Law. Furthermore, while the Constitution allows the mobilization of troops only during martial law, the bill allows the president to mobilize troops if the head of the National Intelligence Service deems it necessary to prevent terrorism.

This expansion of powers, comes despite strong calls for reform and change in the National Intelligence Service amidst accusations of meddling in the presidential election and fabrication of spying. There has been much opposition against such great concentration of power in a National Intelligence Service that has neither reflected upon its past actions and problems nor changed. In the first People’s Indignation Rally on November 14 of 2015, the police cordoned off protesters with bus barriers and pepper sprayed them with water cannons. Later, President Park Geun Hye compared those that disobeyed police orders to disband to terrorists. It is within this context, that despite the opposition’s efforts to block the bill, the anti-terrorism bill was passed on March 2nd. Now, as Korea is overtaken by its 20th National Assembly elections, the media has shifted its attentions to the elections and makes no mention of the anti-terrorism law.  It is time to expose and educate the public about the anti-terrorism bill that grants greater powers to the National Intelligence Service and violates people’s human rights.  

by Jeongeun Hwang (General Secretary, ISC)