September 6, 2022
SEOUL – Calls for more aggressive investigation methods called “online search and seizure” are rising following reports of another digital sexual exploitation crime similar to the “Nth Room” case.
Online search and seizure is a technique in which an investigative agency hacks suspects’ electronic devices and installs a monitoring program to collect criminal evidence in real time. Not only can the agency secure stored information and information in transmission, it can manipulate the device to take real-time photos and record the suspect’s voice.
The need for more aggressive investigative measures was raised after the “Nth Room” and “Baksa Room” digital sex crime cases. In them, the perpetrators used the messenger application Telegram as the channel to blackmail victims to film sexually explicit videos.
The Act on the Protection of Children and Youth against Sex Offenses was revised and implemented in September last year, allowing undercover investigations under specific conditions, but allowing online search and seizure was not included in the amendment.
The suspect in the current case also used Telegram to manipulate victims, the majority of them suspected to be minors, and had been active online since the time when the criminals of the previous cases were unmasked.
Although the undercover strategy has given more flexibility to law enforcement agencies, the method becomes limited if suspects withdraw from social media platforms or apps to avoid tracking.
Lee Won-sang, a law professor at Chosun University, pointed out the limits of the strategy through a paper published in July.
“If the investigation agency cannot contact the criminal or the criminal does not carry out an actual crime, being undercover does not hold any meaning. The ‘online search and seizure’ method will supplement this shortcoming,” Lee wrote.
The proposed method, however, faces criticism as a violation of basic human rights. To practice a legitimate seizure and search, the date and place of execution must be notified in advance to the suspects, but an online seizure and search must be carried out confidentially.
Lee advised that a watchdog system to monitor the online search and seizure procedure must be installed to guarantee its lawful practice.
Germany went through a similar controversy a few years ago, and finally passed legislation allowing online search and seizure procedures in 2017 after multiple constitutional petitions. When the seriousness of the crime is recognized and all other methods are found ineffective, online search and seizure methods are allowed.