South Korea holds the title of having the fastest internet in the world. They lead in speeds and internet access by leaps and bounds with free WiFi in just about any public space. The government fully supports telecommunication development, and the country is a mecca for technology companies. The culture and economy has created highly population urban developments with up to date infrastructure to support high bandwidth lines. Backed by the competitive markets and local officials, the nation has held the number one title as the internet nation of the world for multiple consecutive years.
Unfortunately, the political climate remains controlling of web access, and censorship has been present for many websites. The nation remains very attentive to online content, and put much more restriction on freedom of speech and press when it’s published online. From 2005 to 2012, South Koreans publishing online content as minimal as comments we’re required by law to have the identity documents verified. Sites like YouTube had to disable comments all together. The majority of censorship has been done through ISP regulations.
Using a VPN is the most effective solution to have unrestricted web access in South Korea, all while encrypting and privatizing your data from local data collection or ISP logging of your web traffic. Below are my top picks for best VPN providers for South Korean web and tech users.
HideMyAss – Full Review
HideMyAss is a giant VPN provider with service spanning in almost 200 countries and more than 300 cities. With no surprise, Asia is fully covered including South Korea, Seoul. Pretty much any other location you may need is most likely available. South Koreans can also try the service risk free before committing thanks to a 30-day money back guarantee. Software clients look great and are easy to use for all platforms. Competitively priced, but only allows for 2 simultaneous connections per account.
ExpressVPN – Full Review
The quality can be felt from signup to the first time you connect using ExpressVPN’s software clients. Access to 78 countries on high speed servers, Singapore and great coverage of Asia including Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, as well as west coast US servers and Europe as a whole. A little higher in cost, the service does have great support, and SmartDNS. Each account allows for one computer, one mobile, one route and one SmartDNS connection to be used simultaneously. The cost quickly becomes an investment in a great service IMO. If it happens to not fit the bill for you, a 30-day money back guarantee allows you to try risk free.
The effective combination of security and speed that Surfshark provides, allow users in South Korea to bypass restrictions and keep your information protected. You can connect to servers in over 50 countries, but if you want to keep a South Korean IP address with added security, Surfshark has servers in that location too. Surfshark protects you from malware, trackers and anything else that could spoil your browsing experience. In addition, the Camouflage mode will allow you to bypass restrictions, even if you are in a location or network that blocks VPNs.
CyberGhost – Full Review
CyberGhost has over 12 servers in South Korea and thanks to the high encryption that this provider uses to protect your data, your information will remain private. CyberGhost uses high quality software for all major platforms. You will be able to overcome restrictions without exposing your identity. CyberGhost is one of the most reliable services available and it is also an affordable one. CyberGhost doesn’t keep logs of your activities and it secures your data with military grade encryption. It lets you stream content from around the world with great speeds.
IronSocket – Full Review
Hong Kong based provider IronSocket has very strong encryption and specialized servers for dual layered encryption. No custom software is offered, but OpenVPN can easily be setup with an easy to use server list on their website. Each account allows for 3 simultaneous users with a pretty good global coverage of 34+ countries including Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Seoul – South Korea. Great coverage of U.K. and west coast U.S. servers ensure a well-rounded service.
History to Present Day South Korean Internet Censorship
In South Korea, the Korean Communication Standards Commission or KCSC regulates Internet content in conjunction with other groups and organizations. This body has taken over this governance role from the Internet Communications Ethics Committee (ICEC) which drove Internet roles prior to 2008.
In general, Internet censorship in South Korea is considered pervasive. Government agencies crack down on different types of content, including content perceived as culturally objectionable, such as gay and lesbian content and pornography, and certain types of dissident communications that may be friendly to national enemies like North Korea. That’s not an all-inclusive list, just some of the types of content that tend to get the most scrutiny from censors.
Laws in South Korea
In 1948, the South Korean government passed the National Security Act, which still has influence on free-speech rights in the country. Groups such as the Broadcasting Regulation Committee, the Korea Media Rating Board, and the Korea Internet Safety Commission act to censor all sorts of material from the Internet. These laws underpin a system of free speech conscription that would be outrageous in some other countries, where individuals have much more free rein to post and blog about whatever they want to.
Outdated Internet Policies
Some of their policies make it a very regressive state when it comes to the use of technology by its citizens. This is in contrast to the actual technical capability of the country, where fast broadband speeds make the nation one of the best places in the world in terms of Internet access. However, despite its access to the modern Internet, the country’s policies keep it in a kind of ‘dark age.’ This article from the Economist shows how Korean web censors shut down some 23,000 sites and blocked over 60,000 others in 2014. There are also curfews for South Korean gamers, and identification laws for this posting content. South Korea has been labeled “under surveillance” by Reporters without Borders, and “partly free” by Freedom House, an American NGO. These sorts of ratings show how the South Korean government proactively regulates the Internet in ways that might seem strange to outside observers. It also points to the complex geopolitical relations and also drive censorship in many areas of the world, for instance, in Russia, where the Kremlin still takes a dim view of certain kinds of free speech, whether on the street or on the web.
The “Freer Korea?”
Those less familiar with the region of Southeast Asia would think that South Korea is a predominantly free country, especially compared to its neighbor to the north, where we hear stories of sequestration, labor camps and generally dire nightmarish scenarios within the borders of North Korea. But the reality is that even in South Korea, citizens aren’t free from censorship and certain types of intrusion into their private activities. This New York Times article shows, for example, how some dissidents found their content restricted and others saw ‘risqué’ content disappear from their Twitter accounts or other areas of the web. This is very much in contrast to South Korea’s desire to become a modern, cosmopolitan nation, with armies of English teachers upgrading citizens’ knowledge of world languages. So why is the country so tough on the net?
Some cultural experts explain that traditionally, South Koreans have seen the government’s role as ‘parental,’ and have embraced the idea of a somewhat authoritative state that sets the rules for daily life. This is very different from the idea of a new Western democracy, where such ideas are considered archaic.
Individual South Koreans often fight back against this regressive tide of censorship and government intrusion. But the fact remains that these sorts of cultural and legislative trends are still in fact in today’s South Korea, and a reality for residents and visitors alike.