Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Hodges Reports on Korean Internet Censorship

Dear Bill,

You might be interested in seeing an email that I have
just sent to the Korea Herald this morning (July 13).
We'll see if the paper publishes it.




As many of you are aware by now, the Korean Ministry
of Information and Communication (MIC) is blocking
millions of websites. As justification for this
censorship, the MIC has explained that its intention
is to block access to the video of Kim Sun-il's
beheading at the hands of radical Muslims. Apparently,
the MIC's aim has failed since many Koreans are
reportedly sharing the video privately through other
cybernetic means.

Many netizens have commented on the MIC's
inconsistency in blocking the Kim Sun-il video while
allowing videos showing the beheadings of foreigners
such as Daniel Pearl, Nicholas Berg, and Paul Johnson.
Netizens have also argued for total freedom of access
to the internet as integral to the right of free
expression. Roughly, the argument is that a free
society depends upon free speech, and therefore upon
free access to information.

The MIC might counter that blocking websites showing
the beheading of Kim Sun-il poses no special threat to
internet access and that there is an overiding need in
this case to prevent emotional trauma to Kim's family.
The fallacy in this argument is twofold. First, as
already noted, the MIC has failed to stop many Koreans
from viewing the video. Second, the MIC is not
blocking just specific websites; it is blocking entire
domains, millions of websites.

Censorship on this scale does pose an implicit threat
to a free society. Take my situation. I am an
assistant professor at Korea University, and my
research interests are rather broad. Korean libraries
do not always have the English-language sources that I
need for my research, but thanks to Korea's cybernetic
sophistication, I have been able to use the internet
to meet most of my scholarly needs. Consequently, I
have published on John Milton, Islamic radicalism, and
the worldwide growth of Christian evangelicalism,
among other articles. Recently, I have worked with
scholars from Hanshin University and Yonsei University
on a project investigating the problematics of Korean
unification, for which I was almost totally dependent
upon internet resources. In all of my research, I had
always been very satisfied with my ability to access
online articles.

Currently, however, I am encountering a problem. As I
continue my research on various topics, I find that
the blocking of domains has cut off access to many,
many websites. A websearch process that once took only
seconds is now impossible. I am merely one individual,
but if we multiply my case by hundreds, thousands,
even millions of others, then the danger to a free
society becomes clearer.

Korea's deserved status as a modern society and its
stated goal of becoming an economic hub for Northeast
Asia will increasingly depend upon individuals having
broad internet access. I therefore call upon the MIC
to lift the blocking of domains and again allow free
access to the internet.


Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges [Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley]
Department of English Language and Literature
Korea University
136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
South Korea