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.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.
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.
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.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.
"I'd rather not buy a phone," said Paik Hyunsuk, 17. "It's violation of students' privacy and oppressing freedom."
Article 37-8 (Methods and Procedures for Providing Means to Block Media Products Harmful to Juveniles, etc.)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.
(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.