Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Korean court recently acquitted an unemployed blogger for "maliciously spreading false information" on the Internet. The man was accused of causing stocks to dive with his economic commentary, some of which was remarkably prescient and some of which was not. Of course, if maliciously spreading false information on the Internet was a crime in the West, a large number of people would be in jail.

This speaks to the authoritarian nature of the Korean government. This country was a dictatorship until 20 years ago, and the result is that the rule of law is very, very strong. The example I like to use is that of national ID numbers, which are used for just about everything. I have an ID number too, but my sequence of numbers clearly marks me out as a foreigner. It is, generally speaking, the bane of my existence. Having a foreigner's ID number wouldn't matter if the card was used like a social insurance number back home: useful for getting a job or a bank account, but not relevant to daily life.

However, a national ID number is used to sign up for an email address, road races, shop online and, most comically of all, buying movie tickets from a machine instead of at the counter. None of this, therefore, I can do without the help of a friendly Korean. Everywhere you go, no matter how mundane the purpose, someone wants to make sure that you're not a North Korean infiltrator and that you can be tracked down as yourself. Anonymity does not exist on the Internet, though censorship does. Sites linked to the North Korean government are blocked, for example. You can read the eloquent dispatches of the Korean Central News Agency (you know you're an international power when the country you threaten to annihilate hosts the website of your news agency), but I can't.

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