The case of the serial killer and a South Korean surveillance surge
Martin Innes described how certain ´signal crimes´ can trigger major cultural shifts, changes in policy or in many cases what, a few years ago, I called a ´surveillance surge´. In the UK, the case of James Bulger was one such incident that continues to resonate in all sorts of ways, but in particular has been held to be a major factor in the nationwide expansion of CCTV. 9/11 can be seen as another for the expansion of surveillance in the USA. Now the case of the serial killer, Kang Ho-Soon, looks like it will be the signal for a surveillance surge in South Korea.
Kang, described as a classic psychopath, killed seven women in Gyeonggi province between late 2006 and 2008. He met the women through personal ads and by offering them lifts home as they were waiting at bus stops at night, and then raped and killed them before disposing of the bodies in remote locations. His capture was at least partly down to CCTV images of his car near the sites of the murders.
According to Kim Rahn´s story in the Korean Times, South Korea seems to in the grip of frenzy of fear of strangers, with massive increases in applications to companies offering mobile phone location and tracking services, all schools in Seoul installing CCTV apparently to prevent violence and kidnappings, and in Gyeonggi province, 1,724 surveillance cameras, many with high resolution night vision will be installed. The murders have also sparked new debates about the use of the death penalty in the country.
But, and there is always a ´but´, one interesting fact in the story is that the bus stops where Kang met his victims were unlit. Street lighting is now apparently also to be added. Now it is one of the truisms of studies of CCTV that improved street lighting is a far better deterrent of opportunist crime than cameras – not that you are ever going to deter a true psychopath. Neither street lighting nor all the CCTV cameras in the world will do that.
More broadly however, I wonder whether South Korea is going through a similar breakdown of the feeling of social assurance that Japan is experiencing. At the risk of sounding like George W. Bush, I know Japan is not South Korea and South Korea is not Japan, but both societies traditionally had highly structured, ordered cultures which have been rapidly transformed in the face of industrialisation and globalisation. From my own research in Japan, it seems that the move towards increasing surveillance is strongly connected to this transformation. However at the same time, increasing surveillance is also encouraging the further decline of trust and a move toward a society of strangers. This can be seen as part of what David Lyon is starting to call the ´surveillance spiral´, a self-reinforcing movement in which more surveillance is always the answer to the problems that can at least partly be traced to living in a surveillance society.