SEOUL – A record-breaking filibuster by South Korean opposition lawmakers entered its seventh day Monday in a bid to block a bill giving greater surveillance powers to the national spy agency.
The marathon filibuster began last Tuesday and is being hailed as the world’s longest — shattering the previous record of 57 hours set by Canada’s New Democratic Party in 2011.
Twenty-five lawmakers from the main opposition Minjoo Party and Justice Party have now spent more than 140 hours taking turns to hold the main floor of the parliament.
The are demanding revisions to an anti-terrorism bill, pushed by the ruling conservative Saenuri Party, that would allow the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to collect a wide range of personal data — including phone records — on anyone suspected of posing a security threat.
President Park Geun-hye has said the legislation is necessary to counter growing threats of terrorism, including from North Korea.
But opposition party lawmakers argue the bill would violate rights to privacy and may be used to monitor and crack down on political dissent.
“The law not only gives the NIS unprecedented, unconstrained power to spy on every detail of our lives without our knowledge but also violates freedom of expression,” lawmaker Hong Jong-haak said during a five-hour speech Monday morning.
The NIS had a notorious reputation in the decades of authoritarian rule before South Korea embraced democracy in the 1980s, and its modern incarnation has faced a series of scandals including election meddling.
Senior officials, including a former NIS head, were convicted of organizing an online smear campaign against the liberal opposition candidate during the 2012 presidential poll won by Park.
Critics say freedom of assembly and expression have been significantly eroded in recent years, accusing Park, daughter of the late military ruler Park Chung-hee, of slipping back towards authoritarian rule.