The Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) has queried telecommunication data of around 70 out of 105 lawmakers with the People Power Party. Queries of presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife Kim Kun-hee had been included, as well as journalists, professors, and civic groups, raising speculation on private inspections.
Investigations had been carried out on journalists that had reported on the CIO’s investigation on district director Lee Seong-yun and Chairman Chung Woong-seok and members of the Korea Criminal Procedure Law, who had opposed against public prosecutor office reform. The People Power party had been against the foundation of CIO and criticized the organization for instigating unfair investigations. Hence rising suspicions that the CIO might have queried the data out of retaliation.
Despite growing suspicions, the CIO still refuses to state why it had queried the data on grounds that the issue is still under investigation. “We find it very regrettable that we are being publicly criticized based on previous investigation practices. The measures, which are legal, had been taken as they were needed in the investigation,” said the CIO in a statement on December 24. It is questionable on whether the CIO can walk away from allegations simply stating that the actions were legal. If the CIO had respected public opinion, it should have explained in detail on why it had queried the data, to the extent of minimum disruption to the investigation.
Moreover, the CIO’s outcome of the investigation is insignificant compared to the lengths it had taken to query the data, tainting its public image. The previous case, where the full investigative force was called on, will be settled by prosecuting public attorney Son Jun-seong without detention and sending Kim Woong’s case of the People Party to the Prosecutor’s office. There is barely any progress on district director Lee’s case. All of these cases show why many argue that the CIO should be removed.
The issue of abused telecommunication query is not restricted to the CIO alone. Last year, data query by public prosecutors, police and other investigate offices reached around 5.48 million cases, basically due to the Telecommunications Business Act, which allows investigation agencies to query data. The Human Rights Commission said in 2014 that the relevant article in the act violates the principle of warrant and significantly violates privacy and advised the article to be removed. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy filed a constitutional appeal, but the conclusion is yet to be reached. The National Assembly should not simply wait for the Constitutional Court to reach a decision, it should revise the law to prevent abuse of power by investigative agencies.