Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Republic

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

My wife and I are members of a newly formed social group in Busan. There are a lot of groups like this in Korea variously meeting up for cultural activities, going out and engaging in charitable activities. The new group plans to do all three.

In a culture where there are reckoned to be two million Internet addicts, inevitably there is an online forum for members, and I felt obliged to participate. Because the forum is run by Daum, one of the Korean Internet oligopolists, it isn't possible to just register by creating a user name and password as you might expect to with an equivalent Western web site. Instead, it's necessary to submit a full national ID number, or in the case of foreigners, the ID number from their 'Alien Registration Card', along with a full official name as per one's identity documents.

In other words if I'm to fully participate in Korean society, which these days is in no small part conducted online, I must forego my anonymity and potentially associate my name with every aspect of that life, with all the loss of privacy and potential for governmental profiling that this entails. Is the Korean Government spying on its citizens, and casting a worryingly wide net in doing so? Quite possibly.

After I entered my identity number and full name, I then needed to authenticate my online identity with the Government's 'identity bureau', either by mobile phone, by verified banking digital signature, or by entering my credit card details. My mobile phone is in my wife's name for simplicity, ruling out that option, my banking key turned out not to work with the Government's badly designed software even though it works with my bank, and I wasn't thrilled about handing my credit card details over because I don't really trust them with it. But, I had to go with the latter option. It really didn't seem worth it but I took the view that sooner or later I was going to have to let the Government's computers open a file on me so that the software can, in principle, start building up the evidence that I'm anything they later accuse me of.

The other problem with joining is that now I feel obliged to participate in online conversations - but even though the main method of communication tends towards Twitter-like brevity, even then trying to construct the Korean takes me a long time. Still, it all helps with the language study, and in the end it's probably an inevitable part of the process of integrating further into Korean society.

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