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[Opinion] The Government’s False Wiretap Advertising

Posted November. 18, 2005 08:26,   


The Kim Dae-jung administration kept shouting, “It is technically impossible to wiretap a cell phone,” so many people sought to avoid being wiretapped by abandoning their fixed-line telephones and used expensive cell phone services instead.

When sensitive matters came up during phone calls, they hung up their fixed-line telephones, asking the people they were speaking to to make phone calls to their cell phones to resume their conversations. And whenever controversy was raised over wiretapping, government officials refuted it, saying, “Wiretapping cell phone conversations is like finding a needle in a haystack,” which planted groundless, blind faith in cell phones in the minds of the public.

In September 1999, when Chun Yong-taek was serving as director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs (MOGAHA), the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) and the NIS all put an advertisement in newspapers titled, “Fellow Koreans! Please feel safe about phone calls!”

The heads of the three ministries at that time were Kim Jung-gil, Kim Ki-jae and Namgung Seok. The advertisement included an explanation: “It has been wrongly reported that cell phones, which are impossible to wiretap, are being eavesdropped on by the government.”

According to the results of the prosecution’s recent investigation, however, the advertisement was run at a time when the NIS developed six sets of R-2 wiretap devices and started using them in earnest.

An R-2 is a device which, when connected to landline relay communication network circuits operated by telecommunications companies, enables the wiretapping of all telephone calls, fixed-line or wireless, passing through those circuits. It was reported that the NIS input cell phone numbers of some 1,800 key figures into the R-2 devices and eavesdropped on them whenever necessary.

What is dubious is that the point of time when the four administrative bodies made the joint advertisement coincides with when the R-2 devices became operational. It even feels like all this might have been a conspiracy designed to mitigate the public’s uneasiness over using cell phones so that more wiretapping attempts using the R-2 devices could be made.

One politician said he was told by Kim Eun-sung, the former NIS deputy director under the Kim Dae-jung administration whom he had met on an unofficial occasion, “We have hooked up Mr. X’s telephone.” The intelligence agency might have expressed the beginning of wiretapping on a certain person as “hooking up.”

It is a detestable fraud to hook up thousands of telephones with wiretapping devices and to run the following advertisement: “The People’s Government [Kim Dae-jung administration] is different: It is impossible to wiretap cell phones.” As they did so, they might have smiled secretly to themselves, thinking, “Fellow Koreans, did you make phone calls feeling safe? Thank you, we actually eavesdropped on all your conversations.”

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com