Web users in South Korea are again allowed to post anonymous comments online, following a court ruling on Thursday.
Since 2007 people who wanted to leave comments on Korean websites were required to verify their identity before doing so. The system was implemented on over a hundred websites in an attempt to prevent defamation and libel. Supporters of the legislation drew connections to number of suicides of celebrities and negative online comments.
The Constitutional Court overturned the law on Thursday on the grounds saying that it was damaging to web users’ freedom of speech rights.
The Constitutional Court said that while the ruling might have “side effects” anonymity online has a “constitutional value.”
“Restriction on freedom of expression can be justified only when it is clear that it benefits public interests. It’s difficult to say that the regulation is achieving public interests.
“Expressions under anonymity or pseudonym allow [users] to voice criticism on majority opinion without giving into external pressure. Even if there is a side effect to online anonymity, it should be strongly protected for its constitutional value.”
But other factors, apart from freedom of speech rights, played a part in the ruling. The Court said that it could find no evidence that the law reduced the number of negative comments online but, instead, encouraged users to adopt US and other non-national sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.
A number of high-profile cases of identity theft arising from users having their personal information stolen from websites’ databases is also said to have influenced the decision.
Critics of the law believed it prevented legitimate criticism of high profile and government figures. But users in South Korea, one of the world’s most connected countries, still face some restrictions. The AP reports that during election periods users are not allowed to anomalously post comments on the websites of media companies.