In a major victory for free speech activists in South Korea, a top court ruled unconstitutional a law that required Internet users to verify their identity before posting comments on major local Web sites. South Korea introduced the real-name identification system in 2007 for nearly 150 popular Web sites with more than 100,000 visitors a day. The regulation was adopted amid widespread concern that Internet users were deluging Web sites with malicious and defamatory comments and false rumors.

But free-speech advocates condemned the rule, arguing that the government was using perceived abuses as a convenient excuse to discourage political criticism. They feared that people would censor themselves rather than provide their names, which would make it easier for the government to find and possibly punish them. In response, the law was taken to the courts and an eight-judge panel unanimously ruled that the restriction violated the right to free speech. “Restriction on freedom of expression can be justified only when it is clear that it benefits public interests,” the court said in its verdict.

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