By Kim Tong-hyung
The government's overzealous move to control cyberspace through the introduction of a cyber defamation law faces an uphill battle following a Seoul court's freeing of Internet blogger ``Minerva'' from jail Monday.
The cyber defamation bill, first suggested by the Ministry of Justice last year, is part of a revisions to the Telecommunications Law that are currently being pushed by the ruling Grand National Party (GNP).
Under the provisions, a person accused of ``insulting'' others on the Internet and other telecommunications network could be punished by a prison term of up to three years or a 30 million won fine.
However, the legislative move may be put on the back burner following the acquittal of Park Dae-sung, or Minerva, who the GNP claim would have been the biggest violator of the law had it existed.
``If there were a cyber defamation law, we will be able to avoid a second and third `Minerva' situation,'' Choi See-joong, the chairman of the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, said at a National Assembly hearing in January.
KCC now seems more intent on separating the two issues.
``He was accused of spreading false information under the Telecommunications Law, which differs in litigation conditions and punishments from what is being discussed under the cyber defamation law now,'' said a KCC official.
However, there now seem to be voices even within the GNP saying the government has been pushing things too far.
``The problem with the cyber defamation law is that the rules could be imposed by arbitrary will, with some punished and some not under the same conditions, just as it is with the National Security Law,'' said Hwang Guen, a mass communications professor of Sunmoon University, who is a GNP advisor for media policies.
Prosecutors had sought an 18-month sentence for Park, accusing him of deliberately harming the public interest by spreading false financial information.
The 30-year-old blogger had been a frequent critic of the government's economic policies and his arrest touched off a debate about the freedom of online speech.
In acquitting Park, the Seoul Central District Court stated that it's hard to believe that Park knew about the facts of his articles being wrong when he wrote them.
Even if he did, the court said, it's not conceivable that Park wrote the articles with the objective of harming the public interest, considering the ``particular situation'' of the economy and the foreign exchange market at that time.
``We are certainly relieved,'' said an official from a top-three Internet company, who didn't want to be named.
``The free flow of opinions are vital to the Internet culture and our business, which feeds on the creativity of users. We hope that the acquittal marks the turn of the tide, as we have been burdened by the prospects of heavier regulatory risks,'' he said.
Internet giant Google has decided to block users from posting videos and comments on the Korean-language site of YouTube (kr.youtube.com), its online video service, to avoid the regulatory requirements for real-name use on Web sites with more than 100,000 daily visitors.
However, since the changes are only subject to YouTube's Korean site, users could easily upload videos and comments by setting their country preferences to a different country, meaning that beating the government system would merely require the skill of double-clicking.