South Korea's Volunteer 'Net Cops' Scouring the Web for Illegal Porn

Dec 10, 2012 9:30 AM PST

SEOUL, South Korea — More than 800 volunteer “Nuri Cops” (net cops) that include university students, IT workers, professors and housewives are scouring South Korea’s Internet for illegal porn in their spare time.

In an effort to “clean up” up the net of illegal porn, the army of web watchers feels it’s their mission. The country punishes those who distribute, sell or display obscene materials on the Internet with up to one year in prison.

The Associated Press reported that despite spending his free time surfing for adult material, devout Christian volunteer Moon Tae-Hwa feels no shame and it’s a righteous calling.

"I feel like I'm cleaning up dirty things," Tae-Hwa said. But he admitted, "It's like shoveling snow in a blizzard" because more than 90 percent of the country’s homes are connected to the Internet and more than 30 million of the 50 million citizens own smartphones.

Last August, the Nuri Cops snitched on more than 8,200 cases of online porn in a contest sponsored by the police who claim they don’t have enough time to spy for porn.

But despite the efforts of the porn cops, this tech-heavy country also allows the proliferation of porn. Sometimes content pops up again in a new form only days after authorities have removed it.

The government isn’t giving up the fight however. Last August a university professor and 12 accomplices that ran the “Webhard” porn file sharing service were nabbed in what authorities called the country’s largest crackdown on porn.

And more than 6,400 people accused of producing; selling and posting pornography online were reportedly arrested over a six-month period ending in late October. The police also reported that they’ve recently shut down 37 websites, and another 134 sites are under investigation.

"Obscene materials and harmful information that can be easily accessed on the Internet are singled out as one cause inciting sex crimes," President Lee Myung-bak said last September.

Opponents of the witch-hunt call it a “reign of terror against sex.”  Korean literature professor Ma Kwang Soo who authored a banned sex book said, "No country in the world has ever reported that banning porn results in a drop in sex crimes."

What’s more troubling is that although the country bans child porn, critics said its law are too soft, carrying only a maximum one-year prison term for possession and until recently was punishable by just a fine of about $18,500. The National Assembly did however raise maximum prison time for those who distribute sell or displaying child porn for commercial purposes from seven to 10 years.

Although media censorship has lightened up since South Korea became democratic, the country’s strong Christian and Confucian morality still has a problem with porn, blocking most foreign adult sites.

But some Nuri Cops admit they’re fighting a tough enemy in the popularity of porn and are often chastised for their efforts.

Nuri Cop Bae Young Ho said, "They've called me the enemy of South Korean men."

Another Nuri Cop, Tae-Hwa, a top snitch lamented, "It's easy to find smut on the Internet, but it's difficult for me to watch.  It's disgusting and it bothers me because the images I see linger in my head for so long."

But the Nuri Cops' efforts may be eased some. The prime minister's office is looking at anti-porn filtering on VOD sites and smartphones used by minors. And anti-porn crusaders want authorities to promote sex-education programs aimed at countering the effects of porn on children.

Some South Korean porn advocates even think the government should lighten up and legalize “less extreme and nonviolent” porn. A former cop, who now teaches at Deajeon University said the adult material could be used in clinics for sex problems.

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