The identities of key figures in the Nth Room case, who caused public outrage among Koreans, are being disclosed one after another by the police. Starting with Cho Joo-bin, the “Doctor,” who was the operator of the “Doctor’s Room,” the police disclosed the identities of Kang Hoon and Lee Won-ho, who were Cho Joo-bin’s accomplices, and Moon Hyung-wook, the founder of the Nth Room system. Technically, the disclosure of the assailants’ personal information is an area where only the police and the law can decide. However, there are people who dig up and disclose the personal information of those involved in the Nth Room case, even though they are not police. They call themselves the “Nth Room Vigilance Committee,” and disclose the Nth Room members’ personal information, starting from names to ages, phone numbers, occupations, and so on, for public benefit. However, the perspectives of the people who look at the vigilance committees’ activities differ.
What is the Nth room vigilance committee?
The Nth room vigilance committee is a group that figures out the Nth room members’ personal information and discloses it. The committee collects such information by receiving reports from other people, searching on SNS, or approaching a person looking for obscene materials. The Nth room vigilance committees claim that they should do such activities for the public good. However, they lack credibility since they are not government-recognized official institutions, which also means they do not have a legal right to disclose the assailants’ personal information.
Some people advocate the Nth room vigilance committee
Advocates of the Nth room vigilance committee present the people’s right to know and prevention of further crime as the reasons for their support.
They argue that people have the right to know the assailants of the Nth room case so that they can avoid them. Park Ju-hong, the freshman of Sookmyung Women’s University, said, “I will be relieved if I know whether there are any perpetrators around me. I am afraid everyday, wondering if there is anyone involved in the Nth room case around me. I need to know who the assailants are.”
For the prevention of further crime, Kim Min-jung, the freshman of Sunmoon University, said, “There must be a lot of assailants whose identities have not been disclosed to the public yet. If the vigilantes do not reveal the personal information of the assailants that the police have not revealed, the general public may not know whether the person around them is a perpetrator or not, who may commit the same crime.”
Nth Room vigilantes are criticized for these reasons
Some people oppose the Nth room vigilance committees’ activities because of a violation of the assailants’ human rights, a breach of the law, doubt in the vigilantes, and the possibility of victimization by indiscriminate disclosure of personal information.
Opponents claim that the disclosure of the assailants’ identities can stigmatize them forever as dangerous people and make it difficult for them to resocialize. The lawyer of Kang Hoon filed a lawsuit against Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency to cancel the disclosure of Kang’s identity, saying that if people think of the burden that Kang Hoon, who is a minor, has to take for the rest of his life, they should be more supportive of the protection of human rights than the public benefit.
The vigilance committees’ activities are illegal, as well. It is defamation under Criminal Law and the Information and Communication Network Law. Also, it is a false communication for profit purposes under the Framework Act on Telecommunications. If the vigilantes disclose the personal information of the assailants’ families or acquaintances, it is possible to claim for damages under the civil law. According to Kang Dong-wook, a professor of the College of Law, the vigilance committees’ activities clearly have a legal problem. He said, “The vigilantes may have disclosed the identities of criminals for the public good, but this is a clear violation of their portrait rights. Perpetrators can accuse the vigilantes of this.” He also cited the principle of presumption of innocence. “How can you be sure whether the person pinpointed as the perpetrator is the real criminal or not? Since there is a principle of presumption of innocence, people are said to be guilty only when the conviction is confirmed. Criminals are protected by this principle, too.” He added, “If the face is revealed even if the crime is not confirmed, the person becomes a criminal in the public’s conception. Furthermore, that can affect the judgement.”
Moreover, the information provided by the vigilantes has a reliability problem. In March, “The Scarlett Letter,” one of the Nth room vigilance committees, claimed that an executive police officer was active in a free Telegram chat room which is similar to the Nth room. However, that police officer actually joined a chat room related to the virtual currency. When he raised the problem about some users’ posting of obscene materials, two members of the chat room stole his personal information. They used it in another telegram chat room similar to the Nth room. The Korean National Police Agency investigated the officer and found out he was innocent. It turned out that the vigilantes were wrong. Kim Yeo-jin, the freshman of Hyupsung University, said, “I do not think the information provided by the vigilante group is not reliable since they are not even an official institution.”
Lastly, there is a possibility that secondary, tertiary, or more damage can be caused by indiscriminate disclosure of personal information by the vigilance committees. The vigilance committees revealed photos as evidence of the assailants’ crime. The problem is that some of those photos contained the victims’ features. In March, an Instagram account was criticized for rashly posting the photos of victims. Many people criticized this and asked the manager of the account to delete or correct the post. However, the manager answered that it was a mistake, but he/she could not delete the post since the account was suspended.
There are also some people who criticize vigilantes for disclosing personal information of the assailants’ families or acquaintances. Byeon Ju-yeong, the freshman of Kyunghee University, said, “Even though the vigilance committees’ activities started from a desire to embody justice, disclosing information of those who are not involved in the case, such as the assailants’ families and friends, is out of line.”
The Nth room vigilance committees’ activities have both a bright side and a dark side. They can help increase the public benefit by informing people about the assailants. However, since they are not official institutions, the Nth room vigilantes’ activities lack legal support and may lead to another crime. Therefore, the Nth room vigilance committee is not an issue that can be judged hastily as either right or wrong. We will have to watch the vigilantes’ future steps carefully and decide whether to support them or not.
Kang Da-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
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