The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Protect voting stations

Spy cameras at polling stations reveal issues over election watchdog, YouTuber culture

By Korea Herald

Published : April 3, 2024 - 09:01

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It is not only shocking but also deeply unsettling that police detained a YouTuber last week on suspicion of installing spy cameras in two cities, just ahead of the April 10 parliamentary elections.

On Sunday, an Incheon court issued a warrant to arrest the YouTuber in his 40s for allegedly placing spy cameras at around 40 polling stations in several regions including Seoul, Busan and Daegu. On Monday, police sought arrest warrants for two suspected accomplices who helped the YouTuber install the cameras where early voting will take place from Friday through Saturday.

According to police, all the cameras were discovered at places designed to record the inside of the polling stations, and the suspected YouTuber told the police that he wanted to monitor the National Election Commission’s foul play with turnout rates for early voting.

Although a police investigation is underway to identify the exact circumstances and motive of the YouTuber’s actions one thing is immediately clear -- the apparent vulnerability of the country’s election facilities, which are supposed to maintain watertight security ahead of the elections.

It is widely known that spy cameras illegally installed by Peeping Toms in various places in South Korea continue to cause a wide range of serious problems for people concerned about their privacy, and authorities are on the constant lookout for illegal activities.

As if those criminal acts are not serious enough, the suspect and his accomplices dared to secretly install spy cameras at polling stations where voters should be able to cast their votes without worrying about security and privacy.

Given that the spy cameras were first spotted on March 18 at four early voting polling stations in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, and then discovered at about 20 sites across the nation, there are likely to be more spy cameras that are yet to be discovered -- a worrisome issue for election officials preparing for early voting.

It should be also noted that police and election officials started investigating the issue only after receiving a tipoff from a sanitation worker in Yangsan, who became suspicious about “an unknown device” at polling stations.

If the device, subtly disguised with a label of “KT communication device,” did not catch the attention of the worker, spy cameras might have remained at polling stations without generating any suspicion, thereby compromising the reliability of early voting itself.

The major breach of the security at polling stations raises a host of questions. First, it is regrettable that the National Election Commission is not doing its job properly and proactively. The election watchdog should have started inspecting polling stations for early voting and seeking to tighten security in advance.

The NEC, whose reputation suffered a serious setback over a nepotism dispute last year, should have attempted to monitor for possible trouble, given that the arrested YouTuber reportedly installed spy cameras in the 2022 presidential election and the local election for a district ward last year, and used the footage for his channel.

Another issue to consider is that some YouTubers are going overboard to generate traffic and revenue by ignoring basic code of ethics and even violating laws. Their reckless behavior aimed at capturing only eye-catching footage have prompted a slew of complaints and warnings from authorities, including the Korea Communications Standards Commission.

Freedom of expression should be fully embraced by both established media outlets and social media operators including YouTubers. But installing spy cameras and violating privacy to draw more eyeballs have nothing to do with such legitimate rights.

With the general elections only a week away, the NEC and related authorities should check out the security and other essential components of polling stations around the country in a strict fashion, as holding a fair -- and spy camera-free -- election is the key to laying the foundation for democracy.