South Korea’s New Internet Controls Spark Controversy
As Seoul tightens its control over cyberspace, some privacy and free speech advocates are raising the alarm.
One latest example is its decision to block “obscene” and “harmful” websites that are served over HTTPS on top of the current blocks on websites served over HTTP. The newly banned sites include websites offering gambling and pornography as well as propaganda outlets managed by North Korea.
The controversial part is that the government plan includes eavesdropping on SNI fields, which identify the hostname of the target server. This allows service providers to see which HTTPS sites users are trying to access, so these can be blocked if they’re on the blacklist.
That decision faced criticism from public and industry players who believe that it is unfair for the government to decide what online users can and cannot watch. There are also concerns that the “eavesdropping” could violate users’ privacy.
Sohn Ji-won, a lawyer at Seoul-based civic group Open Net, is among the critics. Sohn said the government’s move means more authority to control internet services providers as well as online users. She said she is concerned that the government would decide on a list of websites to block according to its own subjective tastes.