Home. Toilet. Changing room. Although seemingly unrelated, there is one aspect that correlates these three places-privacy. In these places, people have the right to feel safe and protected. Yet, nowadays, there appears to be no place in Korea to enjoy such privacy. There is someone out there watching you. Someone who films your every movement. Why? Who? Where? When? These questions circulate in the minds of the victims and the public alike.
Hidden camera crime rates have escalated rapidly over the years, from 500 cases in 2006 to approximately 7,600 cases in 2016, according to Korea National Police Agency (KNPA). Under the category of sexual crime, it ranked second after sexual harassment by force or threat. The development of ultra-small and ultra-high-definition camera products has facilitated criminals to surreptitiously invade one’s privacy. The endless accounts of hidden camera crimes and the recent drone incident cast doubt on the ethics behind technological development.
Undermining the Rights of Privacy
In a case in 2015, a 30-year-old man was sentenced to prison for eight months and a two-year probation for the 58 photos he clandestinely took of women’s lower bodies. The man was also ordered to perform 80 hours of social service and sexual violence treatment classes for the 16 photos that targeted a specific part of the bodies. The court ruled that it is not against the law to film the entire body; it would only violate the law if one were to target a specific part of one’s body such as legs or breast.
Yet, over the years no amendment to this law has been made; the legislation remains vague and fails to exert enough pressure on the criminals. Meanwhile, criminals have stepped their game up, using advanced technology to covertly invade one’s privacy. Hearing a strange buzzing sound outside the window, a woman in her house reported on July 23 that “there is a drone that has been recording me outside my window for more than 20 minutes,” according to Korea Joongang Daily. The police who were dispatched to the crime scene failed to retrieve closed-circuit television (CCTV) evidence and retreated without acquiring proof substantiating the victim’s claim. The frustrated victim posted a message to warn others. The incident gained attention as neighbors uploaded the message on Twitter.
Shockingly, the Daejeon Central Police Station did not even have a record of the victim’s report in its database. Furthermore, only after this content of the hidden camera incident circulated through social media did the police initiate a more in-depth investigation. The public will keep a close eye on the court ruling for the indictment of the defendant who used a drone to spy on others; hopefully, the government can regain the trust of the public by bringing criminals to justice with an iron fist.
Dodging the Law
The comeuppance stipulated in the Special Act on the Punishment of Sexual Abuse Crimes states that filming another person’s body without his or her consent for personal sexual desires or to cause shame or to sell the explicit content is subject to imprisonment for no more than five years or a penalty of no more than 10 million won. Punishment levels will vary depending on the number of media files and the degree of exposure.
According to an analysis of 1,866 cases of criminal charges related to the use of cameras by the Korean Women Lawyers Association (KWLA), only fines were levied in 72 percent of the cases, and out of that, 80 percent were fines of less than three million won. “The criminal penalties for the offense is too lenient,” Kim Dongwoo, who specializes in settling legal actions at workplaces, pointed out. The constitution’s clemency has resulted in police officers and courts failing to recognize the significance of the crime. “Korean society mostly considers the crime as an accidental situation arising
from curiosity,” explains Kim, “resulting in the markedly high hidden camera crime rates compared to those in other developed countries.”
▲ PROVIDED BY KWLA.
The atrocity of the crime has increased day by day, causing President Moon Jae-in to order a strong countermeasure against hidden cameras at the Cabinet meeting on August 8. Law makers ought to devise punishments that adequately address the severity of the crime, taking into account the anguish the victims have to suffer knowing that footage of their exposed bodies is floating online for an indefinite period of time.
Perversion of Technology
Sophisticated micro-scale tools with built-in ultra-small cameras with a lens diameter of less than one centimeter can be interpreted as a factor that fueled the increase of the crime rate. Items used in daily lives, such as glasses, watches, water bottles, and portable batteries can be easily transformed into crime devices with builtin miniature cameras. With such technological advancement, it is not just the camcorders and mobile phones that people have to worry about; the smaller the size, the easier the installation and the harder the detection.
Another critical pitfall is that these micro cameras are easily available for purchase to the public without any restriction. When hidden camera is searched on Naver, a Korean portal site, 1636 camera products are displayed without filtering; wireless cameras, spectacled cameras, and spy cameras are also displayed as related searches. A particular online shopping mall, Damoacam, promotes their product with built-in cameras as “Perfect disguise,” suitable for long-time shooting.
Raising awareness about the gravity of the crime through campaigns and media is not nearly enough. Kim adds that, “Prevention should not be concentrated only on the education of sex crimes in school and social campaigns.” Stringent government measures should be in place to revise the legal framework in a way that considers the psychological anguish of the victims, without any room for a grey area.
In the Cabinet meeting held on September 26, the government showed their eagerness to take sterner countermeasures. It first ensured that the level of punishment for digital sex offenders will be increased. Instead of levying fines, perpetrators will be serving prison sentences without exception, regardless of the degree of their criminal offense.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the recidivism rate is as high as 54 percent for hidden camera crimes. “Seeing how Poland’s sex crime recidivism rate dropped from 30 percent to five percent after introducing chemical castration as a punishment for sex offenders, it is a punishment worth implementing in Korea,” proposes Kim.
It is also important to reinforce punishment for not only those who film others clandestinely, but also those who illicitly sell these clips on online websites for profit. To that end, it is crucial to widen the net to prosecute those who perpetuate the suffering of the victims when they distribute the media files online. “Enhancing self-censorship and cracking down on portal sites and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) sites—where leaked images are mainly shared—would be an effectual solution,” suggests Kim. There also ought to be clearly outlined legal supervision for manufacturers and sellers, as well as buyers of the miniature cameras.
As the crime becomes more elusive, it is difficult for people to notice if they are being filmed. President Moon declared, “For sites that distribute explicit video content, regulations need to be strengthened and countermeasures, such as the complete removal of videos, will take place.” Unless tangible actions accompany such words, the invisible yet ubiquitous fear will continue to haunt the public.