Safety and security Korean style

South Koreans value security highly. We all do, and I’m not sure they do so more than in other countries. However, some things struck my eye. For instance, there is an abundance of CCTV camera’s. In parking lots, subway, stores, PC Bangs, apartment blocks and in the streets. They are way ahead of us. Whether that’s a good thing I’m not so sure. Apparently this is being accepted. Korea being a Confucian country, one could ask whether Koreans score high on authoritarianism. In contrast, Great Brittan has many CCTV cameras as well but I suspect they don’t care much for authority, especially since the recent troubles about excessive reimbursements. So, I suspect that there maybe only a small correlation between the acceptance of CCTV and authoritarianism. At the same time, I’ve seen surprisingly little police in the streets, so far. Maybe they are all sitting indoors watching the TV’s.

Home security becomes digital as well. My front door lock comes with a pin code. No I’m not going to tell what it is. To ensure I don’t forget it, I changed it to the same one my mobile phone has. I suspect many of us do this, because with all electronic bank cards and passwords it’s becoming more secure but also  more difficult to remember them all. You’d have to be quite computer savvy to use a password manager and organize all your security info.

Another example of security I encountered was at Starbucks. Yes, as a foreigner you tend to visit Starbucks for the Wifi connection, and so far I counted three locations in Daegu. Anyhow, I opened my laptop and searched for the network. I found the network. But there it stopped. To connect to the Internet I had to provide my foreigner ID number and name. OK, so security is tight, that’s for sure. But apparently, this not only applies to foreigners: Koreans wanting to register at Cyworld have to produce an official ID as well. This means all Internet activity can be traced back to the person. This may be a downside. However, the upside is that communication on Cyworld most likely conforms more to regular social norms and activity and is less controversial.

Internet security is also serious business for the Koreans. According to The Korea Times of September 9th 2009, the Korean Communications Commission (KCC) and the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) plan to have ISPs to monitor customer’s Internet security (e.g. malicious software, bad virus protection). If customers do not comply to minimum rules of computer safety, ISP are compelled to limit or even cut off computers from the Internet. Compare it to compulsory inoculation for the swine flu at the risk of being confined to home for long. Software companies that fail to fix their software vulnerabilities at the risk of their business being suspended. The reason for tightening security is a number of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks last July, affecting more than 80,000 computers. And then on September 13th the Korea Times reported that also 3000 cyber sherrifs are to cruise the web for suspicious activities. This all shows that the Korean government takes its responsibility, not only by promoting the online activities but also securing it.

Below are some pictures on health, safety and security in South Korea:

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Maurice Vergeer

I am Maurice Vergeer, working at Communication Science department of the Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands.