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South Korea cracks down on spy porn chat rooms after K-pop scandal

By Kelly Kasulis
South Korea cracks down on spy porn chat rooms after K-pop scandal
K-pop star Seungri appears at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on March 14. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, April 2 (UPI) -- Less than a month after a complicated spy porn scandal took down a K-pop star and his close circle, the South Korean government is cracking down on illegally filmed sex videos shared in social media chat rooms.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family announced Monday it's teaming up with police officers to monitor chat rooms on popular social media platforms in a pilot program that runs through May 31.

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The move  comes after a scandal involving Big Bang singer Seungri, who is accused of soliciting prostitution services for other men and participating in a chat room where singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young shared explicit, secretly filmed footage of at least 10 female victims. Seungri lost his contract with the YG management agency last month.

Another person in the chatroom, FT Island band member Choi Jong-hoon, is also accused of filming and sharing spy porn.

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"Recently, some celebrities have been involved with these kinds of illegal spycam videos and it has been exposed as a very serious issue in our society," Bae Young-il, leader at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family's Human Rights Protection Inspection Team, told UPI. "Many have been pointing out that this is seriously harming young people. That's why we started running this monitoring process."

For the next two months, police and ministry officials will send a text warning to chat rooms distributing sexual videos that appear to be filmed without consent. If the sharing continues, those running the chat will be presented with evidence of their illegal video-sharing and will be asked to shut down the room. If that doesn't work, the next step is legal action, Bae said - including a police investigation and a sweeping attempt from the Digital Sex Crime Victim Support Center to delete the videos.

Bae declined to share which platforms will be monitored, but the recent Korean entertainment scandal involved a chat room on KakaoTalk, a South Korean messaging platform similar to WhatsApp. It's also not clear how they will distinguish spy porn videos from other types of amateur pornography.

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"It's quite hard to have a specific standard for determining this," Bae said. "But some [chatrooms] have weird, obscene phrases as the title of the chatroom or have screenshots of pornography videos as their profile picture."

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According to government data, digital sex crimes have increased from 2,400 cases in 2012 to 5,185 in 2016.

The South Korean government regularly dispatches workers to look for "molka" spy cameras in public restrooms across Seoul.

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Last year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in acknowledged the problem was a "part of daily life."

More than 70,000 women rallied against spy cams at the fourth protest last year on Aug.4, according to the women's rights group Inconvenient Courage.

Just last month, police arrested two men involved in a spy cam ring that secretly live-streamed 1,600 guests in 30 hotels across 10 cities. Nearly 100 people were paying a monthly fee to watch these videos.

Bae hopes private companies will join the monitoring process. Meanwhile, some activists are concerned that the latest effort is just a short-lived response to the recent K-pop scandal, and not a long-term solution.

"Of course, it'll be better than doing nothing. But basically, if we want to solve the illegal video problem, there needs to be specific policy discussions and applications of aggressive measures," Cho Eun-hee, a counselor at the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, told UPI. "I'm worried that this will be another one of those sparked temporary measures that then will just disappear."

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Cho pointed out that there are larger issues at play, like gangs that profit from uploading spy porn videos and the general public's lack of understanding of spy porn laws.

Last November, South Korean police exposed a multimillion-dollar spy camera and revenge porn cartel that included over 80 active members.

"The system itself is a problem. Even if the footage of them gets deleted, there's a limit to how extensively it can be released," Cho said. "Victims of spy porn live in anxiety for the rest of their lives ... Spy porn crimes can kill the mind and spirit of its victims." 

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