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Telecom companies must submit data for crime investigation

Telecom companies must submit data for crime investigation

Posted March. 04, 2015 02:26,   


Korea’s telecommunication companies, such as SK Telecom, KT and LG U Plus, have decided to stop providing mobile communication records to the national investigative agencies. So far, these wireless service providers have provided records at the request of the agencies. Communication data includes individual’s identification data, such as mobile phone number, subscriber’s name, resident registration number, and address, etc. When the prosecution, the police and the National Intelligence Service requests, the network operators provide the data at their discretion without warrant in accordance with the Electronic Communication Fundamental Law. Some 7.6 million records of mobile phones and 9.5 million telecommunication data, including wireline telephone and Internet sites ,have been provided in 2013. If the mobile service providers refuse to submit the communication records, concerns are raised that it may cause an "investigation chaos."

In a lawsuit recently filed by three people including Seo, whose surname is only revealed, the Seoul High Court ruled that the mobile service providers should let them know whether investigative agencies have viewed subscribers’ personal telecommunication information and pay 200,000 to 300,000 won (approx. 182.2 U.S. dollars) as compensation.” Right after the ruling was announced, wireless service providers stopped providing records to investigative agencies and let the subscribers know whether their personal information have been disclosed upon request. It is understandable why the three companies turn down submitting data since they can be engaged in the collective damage suit that may incur huge amount of compensation.

However, investigative agencies use telecommunication records as basic data for identification during investigation. Based on such records, the organizations investigate people around a suspect and request for a search and seizure warrant on telephone call records and financial accounts. The mobile service providers’ refusal to submit communication data inevitably cause various difficulties to the investigation. It is also problematic to let subscribers know, after ID check, whether their own telecommunication data have been provided. There is a possibility to abuse the practice, such as telling a spy suspect to “run away as you are now under investigation.” The Electronic Communication Fundamental Law’s revised bill has been proposed in the National Assembly, which requires telecommunication companies to submit the mobile phone records to investigative agencies by the warrant issued by a court. In the U.S., the companies provide the data only by an order from an investigative organization, and in Germany, France and Japan, it is also possible for investigative agencies to get communication data without warrant.

In Korea, however, it is illegal to eavesdrop mobile phone conversations because of privacy protection, even when an urgent and critical incident occurs such as kidnap, murder, terror attack by a spy. If the telecommunication companies provide communication records only by warrant, it will naturally pose a great challenge to investigation. Personal information protection must not be neglected, but the public will suffer when the investigative agencies are declawed in investigation on severe crimes that threat national security or citizens’ lives. Limited to severe crimes, the related law needs to be revised to allow to receive communication data without warrant.