South Korean constitutional court upholds website blocking efforts via SNI

By Dain Oh, The Readable
Oct. 31, 2023 9:55PM GMT+9

The Constitutional Court of South Korea announced on Thursday that they dismissed a request for a judgement that asked nine internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to 895 websites with server name indication (SNI). The decision came by unanimous consent, concluding three-and-a-half years of controversy over censorship.

According to a statement released by the constitutional court on October 26, the bench dismissed a petition from two internet users to review the government’s decision to implement SNI-based filtering across the Internet in Korea, specifically whether this action violates fundamental constitutional guarantees protecting the rights of Korean citizens to freedom of expression and freedom of information.

The claims were filed on February 2019 when the Korea Communications Standards Commission called for the correction of nine ISPs, requiring them to block access to 895 websites that distribute illegal content. The commission followed a government decision which chose to use SNI-based filtering in order to shut off entrance to illicit websites that were communicated through the secure protocol “https.”

The South Korean government has sought measures to keep users away from unlawful online content despite concerns over internet censorship. Prior to SNI-based filtering, the communication authority urged ISPs to adopt Uniform Resource Locator (URL) based filtering when blocking access to illegal websites. SNI-based filtering provoked particularly intense controversy across the nation and some parts of the world because the technology enables authorities to pinpoint and identify individual users who have accessed illegal websites.

“The purpose of the correction order is legitimate, which is simply this: to cultivate a healthy internet culture in Korea,” expressed the court through its statement. “Security protocols are commonplace now, so it has become difficult for the government to block access to illegal websites using prior measures. In addition, online content is duplicatable and scalable, making post-measures ineffective. Using SNI to block access to illegal websites in security protocols is considered appropriate,” explained the court.

The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang. This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Dain Oh is a distinguished journalist based in South Korea, recognized for her exceptional contributions to the field. As the founder and editor-in-chief of The Readable, she has demonstrated her expertise in leading media outlets to success. Prior to establishing The Readable, Dain was a journalist for The Electronic Times, a prestigious IT newspaper in Korea. During her tenure, she extensively covered the cybersecurity industry, delivering groundbreaking reports. Her work included exclusive stories, such as the revelation of incident response information sharing by the National Intelligence Service. These accomplishments led to her receiving the Journalist of the Year Award in 2021 by the Korea Institute of Information Security and Cryptology, a well-deserved accolade bestowed upon her through a unanimous decision. Dain has been invited to speak at several global conferences, including the APEC Women in STEM Principles and Actions, which was funded by the U.S. State Department. Additionally, she is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association, further exhibiting her commitment to journalism.