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Evolving digital sex crime, ‘Nth room case’

 Moon Hyung-wook, the founder of Nth Room, with the nickname of ‘God God’ and Jo Joo-bin, the founder of Dr. Room, with the nickname of ‘Doctor’ were arrested for taking and forcing women, including minors, to participate in sexually exploitative videos and selling the videos at a high price via Telegram. They posted many sexually exploitative videos on Telegram. Because of this cruel crime, the anger of people reached the peak. Let's find out how this case happened.

‘What is Nth room case?’

 Nth room case is a digital sex crime via telegram, in which women were tricked through their Twitter accounts or offers “part time model job” and were blackmailed into getting pictures and videos taken by figuring out their personal information, and then uploaded the photos and videos continuously. ‘Nth room’, known to have been created in the second half of 2018, was named from by ordinal numeral 1 to 8. This means that in each of the eight Telegram secret chat rooms, personal information and videos sexual exploitation of the victim were. These chat rooms were re-classified as “hard rooms” with an admission fee of 250,000 won, “high-value supporters' rooms” with a fee of 600,000 won, and “top-rated rooms” with a fee of 1 million won. More sadistic and cruel photographs were distributed according to the admission fees of these rooms. ‘Nth room case’ suspects repeatedly deleted and created chat rooms to avoid reporting and tracking, and similar chat rooms appeared using similar methods. The Doctor chat room, which imitated Nth room, was created in July 2019. It was named after the nickname ‘Doctor’, the founder of the Doctor room. ‘Dr.’ Jo Joo-bin called women slaves and engraved signs such as a ‘slave’ or ‘doctor’ on their bodies. Police estimated the number of victims to be at least 70, including 16 minors in the Doctor room. The Seoul Police estimates that the number of members may be as high as tens of thousands if the members of similar rooms such as the Doctor room are added.

  The police first arrested main culprit ‘Dr.’ Jo Joo-bin for digital sex crime on March 16, 2020. After that, Lee Won-ho, who recruited members for the Doctor Room, and Kang Hoon, who served as a fund-raiser, were arrested in March. A trial will be held at the end of May. ‘God God’ Moon Hyung-wook, the founder of Nth room, appeared in Doctor room in January 2020 and he was sure the police wouldn’t be able to catch him. But in May 2020, the police identified Moon Hyung-wook as 'God-God' and obtained a confession and arrested him on May 12. When reporter asked him about the purpose of the crime, ‘GodGod’ Moon Hyung-wook said, "It was because of my misguided sexual conception."

 Cases involving all digital sex crimes, including Nth room and Doctor Room , are called the Nth room case, and it is controversial in that it is a more cruel and brutal crime than before. Let's find out how this case differs from previous digital sex crimes.

 

Controversy Related to ‘Nth room case’

 The first controversy over the 'Nth room case' is related to the exclusive digital environment. The reason it took so long to figure out this dark case is that they used the ‘Telegram’ app. Before Telegram, some web sites such as Sora-net, were used for digital sex crimes and these sites were thought to be difficult to be caught by the police. But they were arrested easily by police in 2018 and the sites were closed. Telegram has a more advanced security system. Because of this, Telegram has been used as a den for crimes such as terrorism and dealing drug. Telegram has a feature in which all messages sent and received are automatically encrypted using its own protocol, and the location of the head office is frequently moved to avoid regulations. By trying to exploit this security advantage, ‘Nth room’ was made, and Telegram did not cooperate with the police investigation. Also, ‘Dr.’ Jo Joo-Bin used the  ‘deep web’ in order to hide his identity. ‘Deep web’ is an Internet web site that is not searchable on a general portal site. Due to this feature, illegal content such as drug sales, child pornography, and suicide recruitment appeared frequently. Closed environments like Telegram and the deep web made these crimes easier.

 The second controversy about the 'Nth room case' is related to the cold-blooded methods of the crime. ‘God God’ Moon Hyung-wook targeted the victims using the Twitter’s dark culture called ‘deviant account’. ‘Deviant account’ means an account that enjoys attracting people’s attention after posting photos of themselves anonymously on Twitter. ‘God God,’ Moon Hyung-wook, knew minors often enjoy ‘Deviant accounts’. Based on this fact, he approached a female minor, impersonating a police officer, and finding out the victims' personal information in such a way that they could be investigated for distributing obscene materials. Through the personal information obtained in this way, he blackmailed the victims into send video of their self-injured or tortured body. Slave videos were distributed in ‘Nth room’ of the Telegram. 'God God,' Moon Hyung-wook, showed the characteristics of Psycho Pass by revealing his methods of committing his crimes to participants in ‘Nth room’. 'GodGod,' Moon Hyung-wook also threatened victims and the police by saying that he has set up a device to automatically distribute all of the images of the victims on Telegram if he is caught by the police. 'Dr.' Jo Joo-bin used a more advanced phishing techniques. For example, he said that he would send money if the person would send a full-body photo without the face, saying that he was recruiting for a 'high-paying part-time job' and asked for a copy of the victim’s bankbook or identification card. After getting this, he suddenly changes his attitude, and he said that he needs other photos or videos, threatening the victims with their ID cards. In addition, he used his first victim as a recruiter. In this the first victim, whose identity was already stolen, is used as bait to attract the second victim by saying, 'If you do what the ‘Dr.’ tells you to do, you'll get money for it and you can released by him.' Due to these cruel tricks, there are still many victims hiding in the shade without reporting it to the police.

 

Nth room prevention law

 On the 18th of March 2020, a petition concerning this ‘Nth room’ case was posted on the bulletin board of Cheong Wa Dae's national petition. By the 23th of March, 2.21 million people agreed with the idea of punishing every user of the ‘Nth room’ at Cheong Wa Dae National Petition. This is the largest number of petition agreements ever on Cheong Wa Dae’s national petition board. Reflecting this concern, many hashtag activism is actively being carried out. A typical example is the hashtag activism conducted by the ‘Project Reset account’, which played an important role in bringing ‘Nth room’ to the surface. ‘Project Reset account’ has continued its hashtag activism on Twitter, which includes messages that citizens are watching the investigation and punishment, including #nth room_ see_until_the_end. There were thousands of postings when we search that hashtag. Also, President Moon Jae-in ordered a strict investigation into this crime, saying “It is the cruelest act of destroying a person’s life and I took the anger of the people, especially women, seriously over these digital sex crimes, and it is essential that investigation is carried out on all members”.

 

 The National Assembly passed a bill related to the ‘Nth room case’ covering revision of the sexual violence punishment act, which includes strengthening the level of punishment for digital sex crimes. The current law only punishes people who distribute or sell illegal photos or videos, but the revised law will provide a legal basis for even simple video holders. The one who threatens someone with a video that causes sexual humiliation can be sentenced to more than a year in prison. Also, the revision of the law included a provision for a prison sentence of three years or more for someone who forces a person to take a video of another. In addition, there was no provision to punish the victims for taking their own video, but a new provision has been added, which includes 'taking a photo of their own body'.

 There are also opposing voices regarding the ‘Nth room prevention law’. Let's find out why these voices arose. In the amendment to the Telecommunications Business Act, which is one of the contents of the ‘Nth room prevention law’, Internet companies have a duty imposed on them to prevent illegal photographs such as digital sex crimes and to support technical, administrative measures for censorship. This charges 3% of sales as a fine. The Internet Business Association, Venture Business Association, and Korea Startup Forum complained that the 'technical measures' obligations required by the government is unclear and the law is too broad. Of course, they agree with the intention of eradicating illegal distribution, but there are critics that Internet companies are already using their own filter, and sexual exploitation videos are not being distributed. These groups criticize the lack of effectiveness, saying that 'Nth room prevention law' imposes excessive duties and responsibilities by creating more regulations on Internet companies. Internet companies such as Naver and Kakao said that both webhard sites that share files with multiple people, as well as personal social media like Twitter and KakaoTalk, can be censored in order to prevent illegal videos in accordance with the ‘Nth room prevention law’. In response, Choi Seong-ho, secretary of the Korea Communications Commission, emphasized that the ‘Nth room prevention law’ will not censor personal conversations that may infringe on the privacy and confidentiality of users. But there is still controversy over how to differentiate between private conversation and conversation which needs censorship.

To prevent a recurrence

 Firstly, we need a fundamental solution that is different from before. Digital sex crime like ‘Nth room case’ has occurred for a long time, with only different size and methods. Similar crimes such as the ‘Sora.net site’ which had 1 million members, created in May 1999, or a ‘Deep fake video’ that synthesized the faces of celebrities in porn videos, have occurred constantly. In addition, the misconception that it is the fault of the victims in digital sex crimes are prevalent. This shows that we have some distortion of the gender concept of our society as a whole. In order to punish and prevent sex crimes like this, proper sex education should be prepared to have a desirable gender concept based on mutually respectful relationships from childhood. As the number of specialized sex education institutions for children and youth has been insufficient, voices have been raised that specialized sex education institutions need to be established. Additionally, there is a growing voice that Korea's punishment for digital sex crimes needs to be strengthened. Also, Kim Jung-hee, the head of the Gyeongbuk Women's Counseling Center, said “an American was sentenced to 15 years in prison for digital sex crimes, and one British person was sentenced to 22 years in prison, but Korea was only one and a half years for similar crimes”. “Korea needs to revise the weak punishment”. Since there are no sentencing standards for digital sex crimes, it is necessary to strengthen the punishment of perpetrators by establishing such criteria. The Supreme Court stated that it was planning to prepare a standard proposal this year, saying, "We agree with the public opinion that it is appropriate to prepare a sentencing standard."

 Secondly, to prevent a recurrence, technical measures are needed. The information and communication industry is working together to prevent recurrence of ‘Nth room case’ but AI filtering technology is emerging that can automatically censor inappropriate contents. Naver developed AI technology 'XI' using deep learning to filter pornography in 2017, this helps preventing real-time detection of images or videos that contain inappropriate content. Deep learning is part of a broader family of machine learning methods based on artificial neural networks with representation learning. Since its invention in 2017, ‘XI’ has accumulated data from millions of images every day. XI‘s pornography index was first measured according to how similar the filtered objects are to the characteristics of pornography. This is the method of deciding whether to filter based on a pornography index. XI is expected to increase its hit rate as data increases and learning increases, and it is expected to play an important role in improving the quality of Naver's search results. In addition, Facebook announced the results of filtering illegal pornography through AI system during the first quarter of 2020 using AI filtering technology. According to Facebook, more than 99% of inappropriate pornographic image or video posted on Facebook during the first quarter was filtered in advance before user reports were made. The remaining 1% is filtered through user reports, showing that nearly 100% of inappropriate pornography is filtered. Yoo Young-min, the Minister of Science and IT, said, "To effectively respond to evolving digital sex crimes, it is important to gather ideas from the people, develop technologies, and then apply the results in the field. We will continue to provide a lot of support for these technologies."

 Our society still has a long way to go to prevent digital sex crimes such as the ‘Nth room’ case. Even at this moment, other digital sex crimes are occurring in advanced forms and tracking them is becoming more difficult. However, a steady and long-term perspective will be needed to fundamentally solve the problem, instead of after another case occurs.

이광호  june3869@naver.com

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