Twitter and National Security

March 2, 2012

Twitter badgeProsecution of photographer, Park Jung-geun, by the South Korean government illustrates the challenges that social media, such as Twitter, pose for governments around the world.

The South Korean government charged Mr. Park for alleged violations of the National Security Law, which prohibits all actions that benefit any enemy of South Korea, particularly North Korea.

The National Security Law has very broad potential reach. 

South Korean authorities contend that Mr. Park violated the law by using social media to re-post and highlight material provided by the Web site operated by the North Korean government, Uriminzokkiri.com.

South Korea blocks access to the North Korean Web site, however, Mr. Park and others reportedly evaded the blocking by using social media.

In response to the charges, Mr. Park claims his posts were obviously lampoons of the North Korean material.  He argues that he used social media to engage in satire and to ridicule the North Korean positions.

Although national security concerns should be of high priority for governments, Mr. Park’s cases illustrates the potential adverse effects national security laws can have on development and widespread use of information and communications technologies if those laws are applied too broadly.

South Korea is a country that is one of the world’s technology leaders.

It achieved that status, in large part, as its government effectively and energetically created an economic and public policy environment conducive to, and supportive of, new technologies.

It is a mistake to undermine all of that creative and productive work by the government through overly expansive assertion of national security claims.

South Korea’s reaction to Mr. Park provides an important lesson for other governments, including the United States government.

It is not enough to establish policies and incentives aimed at promoting development and use of new technologies.

In addition to being cheerleaders for technology, governments must also recognize that decisions they make regarding a wide range of laws, regulations, and policies will dramatically affect creation and application of innovative technologies.

If governments are truly serious about fostering technological innovation, they must consider the potential adverse effects that their actions in a wide range of fields can have on development and use of new technologies.

It is easy to recognize government overreaching when it is conducted by despotic, totalitarian regimes.

It is far more difficult to see such abuse when it is executed by open governments with a history of adherence to democratic values.

We must understand that the temptation to limit or control the ability of individuals to use technology exists at various times for all governments.

Wise governments will understand that temptation and will actively attempt to avoid succumbing to it.