The purpose is fine, but the implications are unpredictable: South Korean National Police has recently announced that it is currently working on a “Big Data Program”, i.e., a system that will collect personal information in the shape of statistics so as to prevent future crimes. The idea is fascinating: In some way, it has to do with the ability to foresee the future and avoid evil and crime. The situation brings to mind Philip Dick’s science fiction novel Minority Report where in a hypothetical future, mankind will have completely eliminated most of the crimes thanks to the predictive powers of some clairvoyants. But it was fiction, of course.
In this case, we are talking about imminent reality: basically, they want to join the internal database of the police with public information available on social networks in order to ascertain the identity of potential criminals or understand where they hide, for instance. South Korean Police has already issued a call for research projects on “technology applied to security”, promising the winner a four million dollar prize.
The initiative is accepted without even a hint of political debate, thus any information put on the Web via Facebook or Twitter could be used to prevent crime, like all the data available to the South Korean Police and Ministry of Justice.
This decision raises many questions and the initiative is suspected of illegality: in South Korea, in fact, all legal entities such as companies, the government, or individuals must give consent for their data to be transfered, according to the Personal Information Protection Act. Police can obtain such information without the consent of the parties only when it is required for specific investigations. Since the system would collect data for use which is unrelated to specific investigations, it may be considered an invasion of the citizens’ privacy.
If such things happen in South Korea, we are tempted to perceive them as daughters to a particularly intricate political situation, and this is actually the case. Yet, how many people in the liberal West have felt “spied on” by the giants of the trade or the object of sophisticated marketing strategies designed to intercept our needs?
There are also significant legal implications: “collecting data and personal information from the Web is particularly illegal,” – said Lee Eun-woo, South Korean lawyer – and the fact that it has been done “without really taking into consideration any debate with civil society aggravates the situation even further,” – he comments. Also the fact that South Korea is the country of origin of the current Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon gives food for thought: the UN statute is committed to promoting respect for human rights and to protection of international peace and security.
The project of the founding fathers of the United Nations Security envisaged a regulated international system, in which the great powers, by virtue of their importance, were supposed to be also subject to greater responsibilities. Less relevant countries, such as South Korea, were intended as users of the natural advantages of this international system (also in terms of security). In fact, in a world of inequalities they would not have been able to defend themselves, and their insecurity would have constituted a threat to the entire system.
Current news and initiatives such as ”Big Data” are an insult to this idea, damaged by the widespread insecurity on the international arena. This is the main reason why individual countries are forced to act on their own, even in questionable ways. We can only hope that the lack of ideals which characterizes the relations between States can soon transform into a joint goal, they way they were envisaged in the UN’s project.