South Korea's New Law Mandates Installation Of Government-Approved Spyware On Teens' Smartphones

from the please-spy-on-our-behalf,-thx! dept

Considering the extent of its (most web-related) censorship efforts, South Korea must consider itself fortunate to be next-door neighbors with North Korea. Any time another censorship effort arrives, all the government has to say is, “Hey, at least we’re not as bad as…” while pointing its index fingers in an upward/roughly northerly direction.

It blocks sites and web pages with gusto, subverting its own technological superiority by acting as a Puritanical parental figure. Not that it helps. Every time the government ropes off one area, citizens carve out another. Four years ago, it attempted to pass a law making government-approved computer security software installation mandatory, supposedly in hopes of heading up the enlistment of citizens’ computers into botnet armies.

Now, it’s telling parents they must install government-approved and crafted spyware on the smartphones of any children under the age of 19.

The app, “Smart Sheriff,” was funded by the South Korean government primarily to block access to pornography and other offensive content online. But its features go well beyond that.

Smart Sheriff and at least 14 other apps allow parents to monitor how long their kids use their smartphones, how many times they use apps and which websites they visit. Some send a child’s location data to parents and issue an alert when a child searches keywords such as “suicide,” ”pregnancy” and “bully” or receives messages with those words.

Last month, South Korea’s Korea Communications Commission, which has sweeping powers covering the telecommunications industry, required telecoms companies and parents to ensure Smart Sheriff or one of the other monitoring apps is installed when anyone aged 18 years or under gets a new smartphone. The measure doesn’t apply to old smartphones but most schools sent out letters to parents encouraging them to install the software anyway.

No one appears to have taken a close look at the inner workings of “Smart Sheriff” at this point, but a similar app known as “Smart Relief” also allows parents to monitor their children’s smartphone activities and sends alerts triggered by any of the 1,100+ words on its watchlist.

Some terms it monitors (both in text messages and searches) would obviously raise concerns in parents.

Threat, kill, shut up, violence, destroy, handicap, crazy, prostitute, garbage, thief, porn, suicide, pregnancy, inn, obscene, sex, sexual crime, sexual relationship, prostitution, motel, beer, rape, adultery, run away from home, outcast, invisible person, don’t have friends, jealousy, lonely, stress, don’t want to live, loser, complaint, help, worry, menstruation, adoption, divorce, rape, homosexual love, single parent, IS, terrorism, poison…

Other trigger terms seem to do nothing more than give parents a reason to lock their kids up until they’re old enough to move out:

Girl I like, boy I like, dating, boyfriend, girlfriend, breakup…

This new mandate is obviously creating a chilling effect. Some have noted the Smart Sheriff app may give government agencies access to minors’ communications, all under the pretense of helping parents out. Nearly 80% of South Korean schoolchildren (teens and elementary students) own smartphones. That’s a whole lot of communications potentially being delivered to law enforcement and intelligence agencies (if not also to schools and service providers).

As a result, smartphones are now no longer viewed as essential equipment by teenagers.

To get around the regulations, some students say they will wait until they turn 19 to get a new phone.

“I’d rather not buy a phone,” said Paik Hyunsuk, 17. “It’s violation of students’ privacy and oppressing freedom.”

Open Net Korea, which has tracked South Korean censorship efforts for years, has a translation of the law’s stipulations, which not only requires installation of government-approved spyware apps, but also stipulates cell phone providers actively hassle parents who don’t seem to be taking the mandated monitoring seriously.

Article 37-8 (Methods and Procedures for Providing Means to Block Media Products Harmful to Juveniles, etc.)

(1) According to Article 32-7(1) of the Act, a telecommunication business operator entering into a contract on telecommunications service with a juvenile under the Juvenile Protection Act must provide means to block the juvenile’s access to the media products harmful to juveniles under the Juvenile Protection Act and the illegal obscene information under Article 44-7(1)1 of the ICNA (“Information harmful to juveniles”) through the telecommunication service on the juvenile’s mobile communications device such as a software blocking information harmful to juveniles.

(2) Procedures prescribed below must be followed when providing the blocking means under (1):

At the point of signing the contract:
a. Notification to the juvenile and his/her legal representative regarding types and features of the blocking means; and
b. Check on the installation of the blocking means.

After closing the contract:

Monthly notification to the legal representative if the blocking means was deleted or had not been operated for more than 15 days.

So, not only is it censorware and spyware, but it’s also apparently nagware — with telecom reps calling or emailing every month to remind parents to perform their duties as proxy surveillance operatives for the South Korean government.

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Comments on “South Korea's New Law Mandates Installation Of Government-Approved Spyware On Teens' Smartphones”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Yes, keep devolving our kids into beings incapable of self sustaining and thinking. No, really “Girl I like, boy I like, dating, boyfriend, girlfriend, breakup” what is the fucking problem with a kid using these words? “But, the kid may…” Shut the fuck up, let the kid develop goddamn relationships, you know, to gain the experience to have real relationships in the future. “homosexual love” really, moral police, really? What is the problem with that word other than the obvious bigotry of the people in charge of the list? “Garbage”, afraid of kids searching and talking about you?

We’ll see the result of this ‘for the children!’ lunacy when the next generation hits adulthood. If they ever do. Because we are actively preventing them from developing.

To get around the regulations, some students say they will wait until they turn 19 to get a new phone.

Obviously teens in South Korea are much smarter than the fuckwits that call themselves adults and rule the country.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

some students say they will wait until they turn 19 to get a new phone

I hope that abstinence is just their public position and they’re not actually denying themselves access to digital communications tools. That would be a shame.

Although it seems SK youth are starting to realize.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

isps telcos and phone makers say adios byebye to $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$sayonara$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ciao$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

How long will it take...

…for South Korean teens to come up with a lexicon that does not use any of those words, but have the meanings of all of those words?

Then, how long before this game of whack-a-mole becomes declared the largest game of whack-a-mole in the world and will number 2 become really indignant that they are now considered only number 2? Who are those likely candidates?

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: Had my classmates and I had those kind of rules...

Saying those words won’t trigger an arrest, just an alert to a parent AFAIK. The South Korean government is probably monitoring you with it, but I doubt they actually bother following up on every alert because most of it will be a false positive or beneath their notice. You would, however, piss off your parents something fierce as Smart Sheriff alerts them nonstop.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Had my classmates and I had those kind of rules...

I came in to say this. Not only will this raise so many more false alarms in parents, but it will quickly become ignored because of it.

On the subject of subverting this law, does anyone know what the wi-fi coverage is like in South Korea? It would seem to me that even without wi-fi, a 4G hotspot and a tablet would accomplish most current communications needs without being a “phone” in itself.

Call me Al says:

Re: Re: Had my classmates and I had those kind of rules...

The boy who cried wolf comes to mind for this. Parents will ignore the alerts because they will essentially be spam.

If I were one of the kids I’d get a list of the words, put them in a message and set something up so it is sent to a friend a few times a day. The friend can then setup something sending back to you. Both of you arrange your email rules to delete these particular messages on receipt so you never actually see the messages. Once you have the whole school doing it the system is complete broken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Even if their sole intention was to ban kids from watching porn, they would either let a lot of it slip past them or ban the entire internet.
And then all they have to do is turn on the nearest pc or borrow their parents phone.

“offensive content” is probably the usual “anything that implies that we do something wrong” as it is in many “western” countries.

Gemmy says:

Secretary Kerry's speech

It’s amusing to me that Secretary of State Kerry gave a speech in Seoul today on “An Open and Secure Internet: We Must Have Both,” where he basically calls out South Korea as one of the good governments when it comes to internet freedom.

some governments will use any excuse that they can find to silence their critics and that those governments have responded to the rise of the internet by stepping up their own efforts to control what people read, see, write, and say.

This is truly a point of separation in our era – now, in the 21st century. It’s a point of separation between governments that want the internet to serve their citizens and those who seek to use or restrict access to the internet in order to control their citizens.

Here in the Asia Pacific, we see countries such as the ROK and Japan that are among the world’s leaders in internet access, while North Korea is at the exact opposite end of that spectrum, with the lowest rate of access in the world and the most rigid and centralized control.

It seems to me that they worded it specifically that way (“internet access”) to avoid shouts of “liar.” Given the type of stuff in this article from the ROK government, it is really tone deaf and hypocritical…

btr1701 (profile) says:


> Some terms it monitors (both in text
> messages and searches) would obviously raise
> concerns in parents

Why would the words “handicap” and “menstruation” obviously raise concerns in parents? And what kid is going to actually use the word “menstruation”, anyway? They’ll use “period” or “rag” or whatever the South Korean slang for it is.

And it seems like the best way to get around this (especially the “nagware” part of the law) is to just not tell the retailer you’re buying the phone for your kid. Just say it’s for yourself or your spouse or something, and then give it to your kid when you get home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Typical old generation reaction.

For years and years the old farts keep declaring new technology as a fad that will soon pass or considering it toys for the kids. Once it finally sinks in their calcified brains how big these technologies really are and that it won’t just go back to the “good old days”, they panic. They are still very much scared of it and if they can’t destroy it, then they must control it and in cases like these to the detriment of the technology and the people using it.
I keep hoping that people who have grown up with technology like computers, smartphones and the internet will be more reasonable but there is still quite a few years until they come to power and by then, it might be too late.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Typical old generation reaction.

I keep hoping that people who have grown up with technology like computers, smartphones and the internet will be more reasonable but there is still quite a few years until they come to power and by then, it might be too late.

It will be, because they will have exactly the same reaction to whatever the next big thing is – 3D printing, space travel, whatever. Unless society is destroyed by the riots after the robots take all our jobs…

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The worst case scenario is if such monitoring is accepted as a social norm.

And all of South Korea’s children are forced to stay children until they are nineteen. Then rather than making all their excursions into establishing independence piecemeal (Including getting into trouble, and then getting out of it and learning responsibility and crisis management) they’ll have to learn all that stuff in their twenties when they can be tried as adults and have no parental support.

Kids don’t grow up instantly on a designated birthday. It’s a process.

And fortunately they’re going to fight to engage in that process and will just level up their sneakiness to the degree that the new degree of scrutiny demands.

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