In April 2011, Freedom House, international human rights NGO, published the report about freedom on internet and digital media. In the report, they describe South Korea as “partly free country”. They states that South Korea’s internet infrastructure is one of the most advanced in the world, and its democratic institutions, however Real-Name verification policy and a recent series of arrests of bloggers have presented challenges to internet freedom. UN special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, also concerns regarding Real-Name verification that “clearly qualifies as pre-censorship, restricts freedom of internet-based expression rooted in anonymity, inhibits public opinion formation, and contravenes freedom of expression.”
Real-Name verification policy refers process of website registration that asks users to verify their real-world identity before making user content on the web – especially comments and posting. Users won’t be required to use their real names as their IDs, but still they have to verify their particular online ID is mapped onto their real name and Resident Registration Number (RRN) of 13-digit number. Surely, this policy has been criticized regarding freedom of speech on the Internet and infringement of intellectual freedom.
At first, Real-Name verification policy adapted to the amendment of Public Official Election Act in 2004. The policy targeted preventing widespread cyberbullying in postings and comments of election-related online discussion forum. However, New conservative government, President Lee Myoung-bak administration suffered from candlelight protest and massive Anti-Government opinions from online. The government decided their way to extend the range of real-name registration policy to apply any website with more than 100,000 visitors per day in 2009. Hundred and fifty three of local and global operated websites were concerned including Google’s YouTube.
However, Google officially had decided to refuse it. Rachel Whetstone, vice president of Google said, “Google thinks the freedom of expression is most important value to uphold on the internet.” He continued to say “We concluded in the end that it is impossible to provide benefits to internet users while observing this country’s law because the law does not fall in line with Google’s principles.” As a matter of fact, Google had no choice but to find a way to refuse compliance with the Real-Name Verification in order to maintain their corporate universal access to information for all users, and services it provides worldwide.
Social Network also makes Real-Name Verification policy useless. Many websites started adopting social API function also called ‘Social comments’. Social comments allow leave users comments with login status of social network like Twitter or Facebook without website’s own login function. As expansion of Social Network, 45.1% of website adopted the social comment which means Social comments became a sort of bypass of Real-name verification. In Mar 2011, the government officially announced that social comments are not a subject matter of Real-Name Verification policy anymore. Finally, Korean government realized that enforcement of local act to global based company is almost impossible.
This case shows interesting dynamics and complexity between local and global internet environment setting. Korean government had been made a ceaseless effort to extend the as local policy, even though various criticisms over the policy had been raised. However Google and Social Network API, global function makes local policy powerless. In addition, it also reminds us needs of researches for how local and global setting is interwoven in internet environment.