글 | 손지원 (오픈넷 변호사)
오픈넷은 지난 6월 11일부터 14일까지 튀니지 튀니스에서 열린 RightsCon 2019에 참가하였다. 손지원 변호사는 How Small Countries Survive: A human rights dilemma with respect to asymmetrical disinformation war 주제의 세션에 패널로 참여하여 한국의 허위정보 규제 현황과 규제 강화 움직임을 전달하였다. (하단 발표문 참조)
이 세션은 한국, 대만, 캄보디아, 튀니지와 같이 유럽, 미국 외 국가들의 허위정보 규제 담론이 어떻게 형성되고 있는지를 공유하는 자리였다. 세계 각국은 그 나라의 사회적 맥락에 따라 허위정보 규제 담론도 다양하게 나타난다. 특히 유럽, 미국 외 약소국의 이용자들은 글로벌 IT 기업에 대한 영향력이 낮기 때문에 자율규제 정책 변화를 요구하는 것이 사실상 불가능하고, 허위정보에 대응할 자원도 부족하여 더 큰 해악에 직면할 수 있다. 이런 상황에서 강제규제론은 점점 힘을 받고 있다.
대표적으로 대만의 경우, 최근 허위정보 규제 논의는 선거기간 중국 측의 개입 우려 때문에 탄력을 받고 있다. 이미 중국이 대만의 인터넷과 미디어를 장악하여 각종 부당한 영향력을 행사해 온 증거들이 드러나고 있고, 이 때문에 대만의 민주 진영에서 오히려 허위정보를 적극적으로 규제해야 한다는 목소리가 나오고 있다고 한다. 이처럼 외세의 영향을 많이 받는 국가들은 인터넷을 통한 일종의 정보전에 민감할 수밖에 없고, 경쟁국이 퍼뜨리는 허위정보의 해악을 우려하여 “국가안보”를 이유로 한 규제가 대두되고 있는 것으로 보인다.
한편, 다른 나라 역시 허위정보의 문제점이 쟁점화되고 규제론이 크게 부각되는 시점은 주로 선거 국면이나 첨예한 정치적 분쟁이 있을 때였다. 흔히 가짜뉴스, 허위정보 규제론은 표면적으로는 소수자에 대한 혐오표현을 동반한 허위정보의 규제 필요성을 강조하며 정당화되는 경향이 있으나, 결국 정쟁의 수단으로 이용될 위험성이 농후하다고 여겨지는 부분이다.
이러한 우려 때문에 플랫폼에 대한 강제규제는 표현의 자유를 부당하게 침해할 위험이 있고, 글로벌 IT 기업들이 시장 규모가 작은 국가의 이용자들의 요구에도 귀를 기울여 팩트체킹 등 허위정보에 대응할 수 있는 시스템을 갖추고 투명성을 강화하는 등 자율규제 원칙을 정립하는 것이 가장 바람직하다는 것이 다수의 의견이었다.
이 세션 외에도, 이번 RightsCon에서는 허위정보와 관련한 세션들이 다수 열렸다. 전체적으로 “① 허위정보의 확산은 진정한 민주적 담론의 형성을 방해하고, 양극화를 촉진하며, 신뢰할만한 정보의 가시성을 떨어뜨리는 악영향을 가지고 있다, ② 이에 전통적인 미디어들은 그들의 정통성이 약화되고 있는 현실을 직시하고, 성공을 위한 새로운 모델을 개발해야 한다, ③ 또한 미디어 지형은 계속해서 다양화되어야 하고, 독자들이 더 나은 리터러시 기술과 도구로 힘을 키우도록 해야 하며, 신뢰할만한 팩트체킹 시스템을 통합하고, 양질의 보도가 지속적으로 전달될 수 있도록 해야 한다.”는 논의가 도출되었다.
The status of disinformation regulation and the moves to strengthen regulation in South Korea
The transcript of comment at the panel of RightsCon 2019, June 13
Jiwon Son, Open Net Korea
Korean President Moon, and the current Korean government has been regarded as a progressive government since he was elected in 2017, following popular protests that helped bring down a corrupt and authoritarian government and the former Pres. Park. However, they are showing frustrating moves in terms of freedom of speech, as they have been attempting oppressive countermeasures to anti-governmental speech.
Last year Oct., South Korea government announced a sweeping crackdown on “Fake News”. On a cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister argued that the “fake news about sensitive policies, the President, and national security including its relations with North Korea cannot be tolerated any longer, as it is a public enemy of democracy”. After that, it has been revealed that the national police agency had been investigating 16 fake news that made rounds online. They include claims that Pres. Moon is showing signs of dementia, and that South Korea gave money to North Korea as payment for holding the summit. The ruling party launched a special committee to counter fake news online, and they visited Google Korea and requested that they delete more than 100 youtube videos including Moon’s health problems, and the suspicion of employment preference. The Justice Minister ordered state prosecutors to aggressively chase down people spreading ‘false, manipulated information’, be proactive in detecting fake stories and misinformation, and to push ahead with criminal investigations when needed, even when no one files a complaint. In the National assembly, there are currently over 20 pending bills related to fake news.
South Korea already has strong and overbroad regulations in place regarding the dissemination of false facts, which may result in the infringement of individual rights. Under the defamation law in Korea, one can be subject to imprisonment (even when the statements are true). There is an article called “Temporary Measure” which OSPs must take down posts that have been reported to infringe on individual rights for the duration of a month. It is reported that around 400,000 posts a year are being blocked by this system. According to the Election Law, publication of false information or just slander against candidates or their relatives is subject to criminal punishment. The election commission can also issue an order to delete such information. Under this system, it was reported that about 17,000 posts in the last Parliamentary election, and about 40,000 posts in the last presidential election were deleted. Using these laws to silence critics is old habits for Korean regimes. Under former Pres. Park and Lee, those who raised suspicion of their corruption were sentenced to jail for publishing false facts. However, the allegation they raised is gradually turning out to be true; so much so that Park and Lee have now been sentenced to time in prison over those corruption scandals.
The new disinformation regulation bills are about dissemination of false information that ‘interferes with social integration’, ‘disrupts social order or public interest’, regardless of whether it violates individual rights. The new bills usually establish strong criminal penalties for the dissemination of false information and impose monitoring and deletion duty on OSPs. The most powerful bill defines disinformation as “Information that the court or government agencies have determined to be not obviously true”.
However, in 2010, the Constitutional Court of South Korea already made its decision on the provision of criminal punishment for the dissemination of false facts that harm public interest to be unconstitutional. This provision was a restrictive legislation on the freedom of expression with criminal penalties and, therefore, is subject to the rule of clarity on a strict level. However, the “Public interest” used here is unclear and abstract, and hence it is in violation of the rule of clarity applied to the freedom of expression and criminal penalties.
In their supplemental opinion, they said, “Once people receive false communication, they are able to suspect the truthfulness of the matter and verify it. Further, thanks to the development of the Internet, the most participatory market and medium promoting expression, they are able to collect information in various channels and simultaneously raise objections to specific information….Further, we do not believe that expression of false information has concrete danger to obstruct citizens to acquire right information, encourage crimes, and cause social disturbance. Meanwhile, if there arises a debate resulting from the expression of false information, it will draw the public’s attention to the specific information and facilitate participation. Therefore, the false information does not necessarily harm public interest and the development of democracy. Even if one expresses false information with the intent to harm the public, one’s act does not necessarily create social harm if the expressed contents are such a personal matter that it does not influence the public interest or if the matter of truthfulness of the information is not the public’s interest…. The Instant Provision will deter the expression of those who are not sure their expressions violate the law when they seek the truth against the established fact and perspective…. As such, we suspect the necessity of State’s interference when the State prohibits and punishes false communication in a monatomic and guardianship manner with such an ambiguous and subjective element as ‘intent to harm public interest’ even if false communication does not result in societal harm per se. A certain expression, the worthiness of information, the harmfulness of the information should be measured by competitive mechanism of individual’s idea, opinion and the civil society’s self-corrective function not by a state.”
According to this decision, the new bills will also be found unconstitutional.
Although criminal penalties have been abolished, there is a system that can delete or block the online disinformation. KCSC (Korea Communication Standard Commission), administrative agency, has the authority to deliberate online contents and request that illegal or harmful information be deleted or blocked. Their standard includes “Distortion of history”, “Hate speech”, “Violation of social order, or inciting social unrest”.
“Violation of social order” is the most problematic clause. In the former administration, there were a number of cases where internet postings that raised suspicions about the facts announced by the government were deleted under this clause. In 2015, posts claiming that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) was involved in the Ferry sinking tragedy and the delay in rescue, and posts claiming that various North Korean provocations/attacks were not actually carried out by North Korea but were simple accidents or staged by the NIS were deleted. In 2016, the deletion of postings expressing dissent to THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, American anti-ballistic missile defense system) deployment in South Korea, referring to the hazards of the THAAD, had been a big controversy. An administrative agency censoring people’s expressions based on an abstract and authoritarian concept is seen by many as an abuse of power to compel a totalitarian mindset, block criticisms of the state, and control public opinion. As such, there exists a rising concern that it is unconstitutional.
Fortunately, in the current administration, there have not been any decision to delete posts under this clause. This seems to be due to strong opposition from the civil society. It seems the government’s excessive moves toward fake news have also gradually slowed down, with the government being conscious of public opinion. However, I think that attempts to legislate strong regulation of disinformation will probably continue for a while.