As a measure to stem the flood of users leaving Kakao Talk, Daum Kakao CEO Lee Sirgoo announced today that the company would no longer comply with prosecutors’ requests for private Kakao Talk conversations. The surprise announcement set the stage for a direct confrontation between the company and Korean authorities that will likely end in obstruction of justice charges brought against the company and its CEO.
Lee Sirgoo, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
At a quickly arranged press conference on Monday, Lee bent his head in apology and said that he would personally bear the full legal consequences of the decision. “If the decision means violating the law, I will abide by any punishment because I made the final call on this as CEO. We did not talk with related government agencies about this, and we are not saying that warrants issued are flawed. But I believe the right way to handle our users’ criticism and disappointment is to strengthen protection of their privacy…. To do this, we stopped accepting prosecution warrants to monitor our users’ private conversions (sic) from Oct. 7, and we hereby announce that we will continue to do so.” Daum Kakao officials characterized the measure as a matter of “survival” and not “optional”.
Lee stated that the decision was not personal and was made with the agreement of management, and vowed that the company would, according to the Korea Times, “continue to prioritize users’ privacy even if he is replaced by another person.”
In the first half of 2014, Korean authorities made 2,131 requests for users’ information with search warrants , and Kakao Talk cooperated with “more than three quarters” of those requests. Korean authorities made an additional 61 court-approved requests seeking to wiretap users’ conversations under suspicion of charges such as rebellion or violation of the National Security Law. The company denied that authorities used the warrants to monitor users real time conversations and claimed that that the company was not technologically equipped to monitor real time conversations. Kakao Talk nonetheless “cooperated with nearly all the 61 requests by collecting messages that had been stored on its servers for between three and seven days.”
Lee announced that the company would introduce several measures to protect users’ privacy such as organizing an information security advisory committee, regularly publishing a transparency report, and implementing “end-to-end” encryption to remove the possibility that conversations could be monitored through Kakao’s servers. He conceded that the enhanced security features would necessarily make the application more difficult to use. Lee stressed that the company had already cut the period that information gets stored on Kakao’s servers from seven to a maximum three days.
KT’s article concluded that at a September 16 cabinet meeting PGH complained “of insults about her and said online rumors have ‘gone too far and divided society,’ according to the Cheong Wa Dae website.”
The problem of course is that CEO Lee Sirgoo will not bear the full responsibility of the decision. The security guards at the gates of Daum Kakao will have to permit entry to Korean authorities with warrants, and technicians served with such warrants will perforce offer up their wares or face obstruction charges themselves. Lee Sirgoo’s stance has bought Kakao 15 minutes. Daum Kakao needs a decision based on the constitutionality of the wiretaps for the future of Daum Kakao and free speech in Korea.
Aware of Korea’s legacy of lèse-majesté, which might play inside Korea but conflicts with the freedoms of a liberal democracy, I am continually surprised, though I no longer know why anymore, that Korean public figures are unaware that their protestations bring scrutiny and ridicule upon themselves.
PGH needs to grow a thick skin, by which I mean in addition to the lovely, perfectly complected thin skin that encases her now.