The government of Korea announced last week that it would seek to cut off or dramatically slow young gamers’ Internet access between Midnight and 8:00 AM in an effort to cut down on incidents of addiction and other harms associated with extended MMO sessions. This news quickly made headlines around the world (e.g. NPR and BBC News), but what caught my attention wasn’t that the potential over-reach of government but this line from the BBC article “[The government] is asking the companies to monitor the national identity numbers of their players, which includes the age of the individual.” This is probably the first time that I have seen any sort of ID Layer in practice and the lack of news attention to that issue was stunning.
Linking a national ID number to one’s online game account is a decidedly more effective way of ensuring gamers are old enough to access content than the regime currently in place in the US. Asking visitors to a site to key in their birthdate is the most laughably insecure system ever devised, yet there are no plans that I have seen to effectively replace it. It is a consistent theme in this blog that ensuring users’ identity will be one of the major hurdles to overcome in the next iteration of the Internet. Maintaining privacy continues to be of primary importance to many users, not just over their personal information, but over their online behavior and habits as well. We in the United States have a certain expectation that our actions on the Internet must remain anonymous, even though the ability of corporations and the government to track our movements through cyberspace grows stronger every day. What such a system of national online identity tracking would look like and how secure that information would be are critically important questions to answer if there is ever to be a similar curfew in the US. Parents in Korea can use their children’s ID number to monitor their online behavior as well, which might strengthen support in a country like the US with ever-growing concerns about children’s online safety. Perhaps some day we will see an expansion of the Real ID Act (a federal law mandating uniformity of state ID cards that goes into effect in 2011) that could somehow create the foundation for an Internet identification system.
Another surprising element to the curfew story was the apparent ease with which the Korean government obtained compliance from the game providers to join the system. The games apparently have a choice between cutting off access and slowing connection speeds during hours when kids should be sleeping. It is unclear, however, whether non-Korean-based games such as World of Warcraft, Evequest II, or EVE Online will be affected by the curfew. If there isn’t a unified system, it would seem that a curfew would only hurt compliant Korean games by pushing kids into the open arms of foreign games. This further raises questions about what lengths governments should be able to go to enforce their laws on the Internet within their border. The logical extension of this is, of course, China’s Great Firewall, so there are no easy answers.
Would you support a national ID system if it meant you could more easily identify who you were talking to or doing business with online?