Controversy surrounding “Macro Prohibition Act” is heating up in South Korea.
Not only this act prohibits illegal acts done by people using macro programming, but it also gives obligations to IT service providers such as Naver or Kakao to prevent fabrication of services based on macro programming.
As the internet has absolute influence over public opinions, everyone agrees on the basic purpose of Macro Prohibition Act that prohibits illegal acts that mess up the order of the internet.
However, many argue that Macro Prohibition Act will suppress freedom of expression on the internet as it monitors use of macro. Not only is it difficult to monitor macros technologically, monitoring macros will require significant amount of time and expense from companies.
Ambiguous phrases also stir controversies. There are many who believe that the current law is sufficient enough to maintain the order of the internet.
◊Macro Prohibition Act overlaps with the Criminal Code
Members of Liberty Korea Party have repeatedly pushed for Macro Prohibition Act since “Druking” incident. Need to legislate Macro Prohibition Act has emerged as a hot topic as South Korea had gone through a controversy surrounding Former Minister Cho Kuk of Ministry of Justice.
Macro is a type of programming that ties many commands into one and repeatedly performs a same act automatically. Although it is mostly used for advertisement, it has also been used secretly to raise grades of movies or shopping malls through stolen personal information. This is the reason why there are people who believe that macros are misused for manipulating media for political maneuvering.
As a result, Macro Prohibition Act prohibits use of macros for unfair purposes, requires companies that make certain amount of annual sales to take technical and managerial actions so that its services are not fabricated by its users, and prohibits fabrication of IT services using other’s person information.
However, Macro Prohibition Act has faced various controversies during its legislation process. One of them is its redundancy. Professor Choi Min-sik of Kyunghee University criticized Macro Prohibition Act and its redundancy while mentioning Article 314 of the Criminal Code at a seminar that was held on the 21st to discuss and to examine Macro Prohibition Act.
Section 2 of Article 314 states that anyone who impedes other’s work by destroying computers or electronic records, entering false information or unfair commands into data processing units, or causing a failure to data processing through other methods will be given an imprisonment of less than 5 years or levied a fine under $12,700 (15 million KRW). This indicates that the current law is enough to punish anyone who fabricates information.
◊Macro Prohibition Act contains many uncertainties
Professor Choi gave his assessment over Macro Prohibition Act by stating that the definitions of some of expressions such as “unfair purpose” are unclear.
First, ambiguous meaning of “unfair purpose” can lead to a punishment for using macro programming depending on one’s interpretation. While one sees an issue as “fabrication”, other may see it as “advertisement”. He is also concerned that the government can abuse state punishment power on individuals and companies.
It is difficult for businesses to determine “fabrication by users” as it is unclear for companies to determine if an act is fabrication or not.
“Because Macro Prohibition Act hands over the right to judge a use of macro as unfair or not to businesses, businesses are eliminating their real-time search word services instead because it is difficult for them to judge whether an act is unfair or not.” said Professor Choi Ji-hyang of Ewha Womans University. “Due to Macro Prohibition Act, people cannot use services such as real-time search word that was established for positive purposes.”
“We need bills that will minimize legal and reasonable regulations.” said Lee Ji-eun who is an attorney from Law Firm Geon Woo. “We need to clearly regulate illegal acts and allow all other acts.” She also added that Macro Prohibition Act does not clearly define concepts such as “unfair purpose” and “fabrication” and that there is a high chance that Macro Prohibition Act violated South Korea’s constitution.
◊Technology not enough to determine illegality of macro
One of issues related to Macro Prohibition Act is the fact it is difficult to determine unfair purpose or fabrication technologically.
There are 14,000 articles that are uploaded on the internet daily. Whenever hundreds of thousands of comments are left using dozens of computers, it is difficult for an administrator to read them one by one and determine whether a comment is problematic or not. Although this issue needs to be tackled through a technological program, it is almost impossible to completely respond to macros.
“Reason why it is difficult to prevent DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks is because it is difficult to differentiate normal traffic with harmful traffic.” said Professor Do Jung-hoon of Yonsei University. “If thousands of people use macros using zombie computers, it is difficult to understand the issue.”
Professor Do also predicted that it would be difficult to apply a law to macro from an aspect of technological evolution. Because macro technology continues to evolve, it is difficult to maintain a law that defines or regulates macro.
Reverse discrimination between South Korean companies and foreign companies is another issue. There has yet to be any discussion about whether it is possible to regulate foreign companies if Macro Prohibition Act passes. If it becomes impossible to regulate foreign companies, reverse discrimination between South Korean companies and foreign companies will be inevitable.
There have been active discussions about regulation over foreign companies since the parliamentary inspection of the government offices in 2017. Temporarily stopping a service if illegal acts are found amongst South Korean services was also talked about. However, an issue surrounding the effectiveness of enforcing a law on companies that do not have offices in South Korea has not been resolved yet.
◊The Internet industry fears Macro Prohibition Act will suppress freedom of expression
Macro Prohibition Act is currently pending within the National Assembly’s Science, ICT, Broadcasting, and Communications Committee. Members of the opposing parties decided to continue further discussions during a next meeting. As members have come to a tentative agreement, there is a chance that Macro Prohibition Act along with other bills such as Software Industry Promotion Act will pass a plenary session.
If the bill is passed, technicalities such as enforcement ordinance will be prepared. Since the bill will be prepared by gathering opinions from relevant industries, discussions will be made possible. However, the internet industry’s stance is that Macro Prohibition Act should not be passed.
Internet companies such as Naver and Kakao have no choice but to enforce their monitoring over macros in order to avoid legal responsibilities. As a result, the internet industry is concerned that freedom of expression may be suppressed during this process.
“Because macros are still used a lot currently, the current law is enough to prevent issues such as fabrication of public opinion.” said a representative for an internet company. “Ultimately, issue that the political circle cannot deal with is passed onto us.”
“Although major companies may be able to deal with issues technologically or through manpower if the law passes, small to midsize companies will be unable to deal with such issues.” said the same representative. “Above all else, we are mostly concerned about a possibility that the law will be abused by the political circle or the government to control private companies.”
Experts believe that the controversy rises from difference in viewpoints towards public opinion. Unlike how foreign countries that look at public opinion as opinions towards pluralized political power, South Korea is extremely sensitive about public opinion.
On the other hand, some suggested that functions and limitations of the internet space that is causing discussions about comments and others should not be overestimated.
Some also recommended that although there needs to be appropriate regulations, there needs to be a system that leaves freedom of expression alone and emphasizes proper functions of the internet.
Staff Reporter An, Hocheon | firstname.lastname@example.org