A fierce battle over cyber censorship is being waged in the parliamentary audit targeting the Seoul Public Prosecutors' Office and District Prosecutor's Offices on Oct. 16. In particular, Daum Kakao CEO Lee Sir-goo, who is embroiled in the controversy over cyber surveillance, testified at the audit on wiretapping warrants.
When asked about his unwillingness to comply with wiretapping warrants, Lee responded by saying, “I've honored court warrants for eavesdropping so far, but wiretapping warrants violate the law. I cannot obey the government's request to hand over KakaoTalk messages, in order to protect the personal information of users.” His remarks reiterated the firm's noncompliance policy revealed at a press event on Oct. 13.
Technically, wiretapping is the real-time monitoring of communications records. The KakaTalk communication network is simply not designed to provide real-time monitoring of its communications to anyone, so to date, Kakao has provided communications logs on a weekly basis on government request. CEO Lee thinks that this method is illegal, and therefore he intends to not cooperate in the future.
The CEO remarked, “In order to administer wiretapping warrants according to the law, it is necessary for us to have eavesdropping equipment and provide data. But we cannot do that. We have no real-time monitoring capability, and we are unwilling to do that, either.”
Park Ji-won, member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, asked, “If an eavesdropping device for real-time monitoring is developed, can you promise that you will not obey wiretapping warrants?” Lee stressed, “I will not comply in any way, even if a listening device is developed.”
After his testimony, he was hit with a barrage of criticism, mainly from the ruling party. Kim Jin-tae, member of the ruling Saenuri Party, remarked, “Wiretapping warrants are administered in the case of murder, abduction, and violation of National Security Law.” He said, “Are you saying that you will not hand over KakaoTalk messages of murderers or spies, even when wiretapping warrants are not subject to defamation?” Lee responded by saying, “The strict interpretation of the law will make any cooperation in executing warrants impossible. So, I need your understanding in this matter.”
There was also a fierce debate between lawmakers from the opposition party and the prosecution. Suh Young-kyo, member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, pointed out, “Even though eavesdropping should be done in real time, a wiretapping warrant was issued to KakaoTalk under the circumstances where real-time monitoring was impossible.” Kim Su-nam, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office, replied, “Wiretapping warrants are aimed at knowing what certain people are saying in a specific time in the future. Due to technical problems, mobile carriers are requested to hand over communications data. I think that communications data requests are legal, since the communications don't exist when carriers are asked.”
Rep. Suh countered by saying, “Whatever the circumstance may be at the time of the request, at the end of the day mobile carriers are forced to turn over past communications data. So, it is illegal for the government to issue a wiretapping warrant to Daum Kakao.” As the controversy over wiretapping warrants grew, Kim said, “It is difficult to talk about the legality of the communications data request, but I will consider whether or not there is any problem or something that needs to be improved, stemming from the growing controversy over the issue.”