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South Korea's Constitutional Court Strikes Down Real Online Name Law

On Thursday last week, eight judges in South Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously struck down a law requiring the use of real names online on the grounds that it violated the constitutional right to free speech. While this controversial law was originally passed in 2007 to curb libelous and malicious speech online in response to a chain of suicides amongst prominent Korean celebrities, allegedly caused by malicious online comments, the Court found no proof that the law helped decrease libel or the spread of rumors and false information, and voiced that “[e]ven if there is a side effect to online anonymity, it should be strongly protected for its constitutional value.” The Court concluded that the real name policy ultimately discouraged people from voicing dissent out of fear of retribution or punishment.

Under this policy, nearly 150 websites with over 100,000 daily visitors were requiring users to submit identity information in order to leave comments, causing various “controversial” online websites to seek online asylum by hosting their websites and services overseas in order to bypass these laws.

While many were supportive of the Thursday ruling, critics pointed out that South Korea has still failed to address the larger batch of broad online regulations in South Korea that control the internet space. For example, until recently, South Koreans were not allowed to disclose their support or opposition of a political party or a candidate online. In addition, the “netizens” could be held criminally liable for disseminating or leaving false information online. Both bills were ruled unconstitutional in 2010 and 2011. Although being one of the most wired countries in the world and having a reputation for top connectivity speeds, a series of recent crackdowns on internet freedom has placed South Korea on Reporters Without Borders’ “under surveillance” list.

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