Korea Technology Review2009. 4. 10. 11:17

YouTube basically told the Korean government to "bug off" when it announced that it would reject a local law that requires registered users to prove their identity when they upload videos and post comments.

"You will not be required to verify your identity," it said on its company blog Thursday, since "we have voluntarily disabled comments and video uploads when using YouTube in Korea with the Korea country setting."

Korean YouTube users, however, will still be allowed to do their usual business in YouTube's other global sites without giving out their identity, YouTube hinted blatantly, "by choosing a non-Korean country setting from the top of any YouTube page." Only thing they will need to do is to set the language to Korean, which would allow them a snap detour around the governmental restriction. 

"We have a bias in favor of people's right to free expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual," it said, adding "it is important for free expression that people have the right to remain anonymous if they choose."

For many Koreans, long proud of its status as one of the world's most wired countries, it is such an unpleasant turn of events that their country is suddenly being compared with China and North Korea as one of the worst countries in terms of the Internet censorship. Reporters without Borders (RSF), however, has recently rated Internet censorship in South Korea as "substantial" indeed, putting the country right behind "13 enemies of the Internet," which includes North Korea.

"South Korea's Internet censorship policy is highly political and particularly strong toward suppressing anonymity in the Korean internet," RSF noted in its annual report, "a user registration and citizen identity number verification is required to post a comment on a news article. Daum, Naver, Nate, and Yahoo Korea enforce such verification before the user can post any material that is publicly viewable." 

The ruling Grand National Party proposed legislation late last year that enforces verification of online identity, apparently alarmed by a series of high profile suicides by some celebrities, including Choi Jin-sil, a top Korean actress and television star; Choi and other celebrities have allegedly killed themselves after struggling to cope with both depression and vicious online bullying by anonymous posters. 

The opposition party and online activists, however, saw this as a brazen attempt by the conservative government to crack down on the Internet, hence silencing the overwhelmingly liberal voice there -- although there were some sympathetic opinions among Korean Netizens about the apparent motivation of the legislation. The Korean Internet has been dominated by the liberal and left-wing political groups since the 1990's and the conservative party was never able to find any significant ally on the Internet until the latest presidential election in 2007, to say nothing of the 2002 campaign that elected the reformist President Roh Moo-hyun. 

It would be no coincidence then that the ruling party is spending an immense amount of political capital to legislate a new media law that would allow top newspapers -- its close ally according to a local consensus -- to own controlling stakes in broadcasters and other new media assets. 

As the arrest of "Minerva" -- a Korean blogger who has vociferously accused the government for its failed economic and foreign exchange policy in the wake of the global financial crisis -- shows, the governmental crackdown on the Net is not a joke and is considered a clear and present threat among ordinary Korean Netizens.

On the YouTube blog, scores of Korean Netizens left mostly complimentary comments, praising YouTube for its "courageous decision" to stand up against the government. Some said they would even seek "online political asylum" in YouTube and persuade others to follow their move, accusing the incumbent government of "tyranny."

Howard Rheingold and other pundits on online democracy have long warned while the Internet is a great tool to recover the original vision of democracy, it is also a handy tool for tyrants to exert their control over the people. The world will remember Korea as the first wired country that witnessed both sides of this feature of Internet technology -- all in only the span of 10 years.

*Full Statement of YouTube Korea to Its Users

Dear users
We have a bias in favour of people's right to free expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. We believe that it is important for free expression that people have the right to remain anonymous if they choose. 

Because of Real Name Verification Law in Korea we have voluntarily disabled comments and video uploads when using YouTube in Korea with the Korea country setting, so you will not be required to verify your identity. 

You will still be able to enjoy watching and sharing videos on YouTube. You may still upload videos and comments without proving your identity by choosing a non-Korean country setting from the top of any YouTube page.

We understand that this may affect your experience on YouTub
e. Thank you in advance for your understanding. We hope that you continue to enjoy and participate in the YouTube community.
Posted by PSB

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