Kim Hyun-kyung, Professor, Graduate School of Public Policy and Information Technology, Seoul National University of Science & Technology, in The Asia Business Daily (April 13, 2020)
South Korea has been caught up in the Nth Room cybercrime case, in which a shocking number of women and minors were subject to pornographic enslavement. Several individuals including Cho Joo-bin, now under investigation, were blackmailing victims and spreading sexually exploitative videos through the Telegram app. This case is the most recent in a series of similar cybercrimes, including the Burning Sun scandal of 2019 in which a number of high-profile K-pop stars were implicated.
Why is South Korea unable to put an end to such cybercrimes against women and minors?
First, the country has relatively lenient laws against cybersex crimes. From 2011 to 2015, out of 1,800 indictments for filming, distribution and sale of illegal pornographic content, only a meagre 5 percent resulted in imprisonment. In 2018, the average sentence imposed on people convicted of cybercrimes committed against children and minors was just two years. By contrast, child pornography in the US is a serious offense, the production of illegal content punishable by 15-30 years in prison.
Second, South Korea has not been proactive in cross-border cooperation against cybercrime. Media platforms that are often implicated in cybercrimes, such as Telegram, do not disclose server locations and do not store all their data in one place. The South Korean government must step up its international cooperation, starting by joining the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and discouraging use of uncooperative foreign platforms.
Finally, the government has not taken enough measures to address cybercrime. The government has increased monitoring of illegal digital pornographic content and applied more pressure on platform providers to take responsibility and implement controls. But such measures have been insufficient and ineffective.
Given what little has been done so far, it seems unlikely that the Nth Room case will be the last of its kind in South Korea.