Legislators Propose Bill to Ban Unconsented Phone Call Recordings
Legislators Propose Bill to Ban Unconsented Phone Call Recordings
  • Reporter Won John
  • 승인 2022.10.03 01:41
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▲Picture of Phones / Pexels
▲Picture of Phones / Pexels

On Aug. 18, Yoon Sang-Hyun, a member of the National Assembly, along with 11 fellow legislators of the People Power Party stirred up controversy by proposing a bill to criminalize the act of recording phone calls without the explicit consent of both parties. Current law states in Paragraph 1 of Article 3 of the Protection of Communications Secrets Act that “No person shall censor any mail, wiretap any telecommunications, provide communication confirmation data, or record or listen to any conversation between others that is not made public, except as provided for in this Act, the Criminal Procedure Act or the Military Court Act.” 
However, the Supreme Court has maintained that if a participating party of the phone call records, this does not fall into the category of “conversation between others” and hence is not a violation of the law. Therefore, this newly proposed bill suggests a change in the paragraph such that “participating parties of the call cannot record the call without the consent of all participating parties.” A violation of this proposal would lead to a maximum of 10 years of jail time and 5 years of suspension of qualification.
Yoon explained the rationale behind the bill stating that current law which bans only recordings of outside parties has the potential to allow infractions on an individual’s ‘Right of Voice’. The Right of Voice is explained to be a basic right derived from the human rights guaranteed in Article 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. Similar to portrait rights which protect one’s rights to the recording and publishing of one's body, one is guaranteed the rights to record and publish one’s voice.
On the other hand, Kang Tae-Wook, a lawyer at Bae, Kim & Lee LLC, remarked that while the current law does not ban call recordings by participants, the sharing of said recordings to third parties or to the public has been accepted as a violation of Right of Voice by case law, and hence recognized as a tort liability.
Meanwhile, the bill proposal has been met with plenty of controversy. Most advocates state the benefits of the bill, such as preventing the exploitation of phone recordings with malicious intentions or infringement of personal privacy. Yoon has repeatedly emphasized this point, saying “(current law) has caused an increase in cases where unconsented phone recordings led to undesirable situations such as blackmail.”
There has also been great opposition against the proposal. Recording of phone calls is a widely used feature in Korea, and the people are used to the benefits. Call recordings have been used as critical evidence or tools of defense against abuse of power, sexual harassment, and abusive language. There have been many real cases in sexual assault or bribery, in which evidence is hard to find, where submitted call recording evidence was used as critical turning points in criminal investigation and court.
Call recordings have also been at the heart of many controversies in the political scene. The leaking of sensitive calls have given many politicians a headache. The 19th presidential election in Korea also saw many competing candidates attacked by leaked call recordings. Some have raised allegations against Yoon on this note, criticizing that the reason he proposed this bill is because he himself has experience of suffering due to a leaked call recording. Yoon was preparing for the general election in February 2016, when a recording of him criticizing Kim Moo-Sung, the head of the Saenuri Party, was released to the public. This led to Yoon leaving the party. However, this event was of a recording by a third party that was not participating in the call, therefore a criminal act even in current law and is unrelated to the currently proposed bill.
The criminalization of phone call recordings is not an issue in which a consensus has been reached by global legal systems. In the US, only 13 states such as California and Florida have outlawed recordings while others have not. Europe is also divided with France and Germany outlawing recordings while Great Britain is abstaining from doing so. Whatever conclusion the National Assembly reaches in Korea, the final bill should find a balance between the protection of people’s basic rights and the public interest of phone call recordings.