Toronto Citizen’s Arrest of South Korea’s Smart Sheriff

From The Citizen Lab, Are the Kids Alright? Digital Risks to Minors from South Korea’s Smart Sheriff Application, Appendix B: Legal and Policy Issues (2015)

South Korea is one of the most highly connected countries in the world when it comes to Internet and mobile phone access. Whereas 36.2 percent of Korean minors had smartphones in 2011, the number grew to 81.5 percent within two years, with high penetration rates even among elementary school children.

The South Korean government has taken steps to regulate the use of digital media among minors, maintaining a “shutdown” rule that restricts access to online gaming for minors under the age of sixteen after midnight.

In 2013, regulators began focusing on combating excessive smartphone use, requiring that schools organize “boot camps” where no Internet usage is allowed, teach classes on Internet addiction, and educate those as young as three on how to prevent overuse of digital devices and the Internet.

By 2014, schools were piloting a program that required students, with parental approval, to download an application that allowed teachers to remotely track and control students’ smartphones, including the ability to lock the phone or allow only emergency calls.

By April 2015, the Korean government enacted a new measure requiring telecommunications business operators that enter into service contracts with minors to provide a means of blocking harmful content on the minor’s mobile device and ensure that parents receive notifications whenever the blocking means becomes inoperative. This measure has ushered in the wide-ranging use of parental monitoring software, with Smart Sheriff one of the most prominent options for fulfilling the mandate. One month into the mandate, these applications were reportedly downloaded at least 480,000 times.

With cooperation on implementation from numerous entities in the public and private sector, the new requirements constitute a pervasive parental monitoring and control mandate.

While Smart Sheriff is not the only tool offered to support compliance with the new regulations on provision of means to block harmful content, the Korean government appears to have uniquely supported its development and promotion.

According to its terms of use, Smart Sheriff collects and retains for one year information about applications installed on the child’s smartphone, data related to account password, member name, phone number, child’s date of birth, IP addresses of service access, and log file information such as access time.

Smart Sheriff’s terms of use also provide for sharing the student’s data with the Office of Education and the student’s school for purposes of smartphone addiction counselling, and with telecommunications business operators for the purpose of complying with the notification obligations of the mandate on installation of means for blocking harmful content.

What could go wrong?