The Korean cell phone law that indirectly led to Bio Kim’s suspension

October 3, 2019

Korean PGA Order of Merit leader Bio Kim was suspended after an incident at last week’s DGB Financial Group Volvik Daegu Gyeongbuk Open. Mid-swing on the 16th tee, the shutter from a cell phone camera went off. Kim whirled around, flipped off the crowd and slammed his club into the ground.

The 29-year-old went on to win the event but felt the ramifications of his meltdown immediately. The Korean PGA announced Tuesday that Kim was suspended for three years for making the obscene gesture. He has followed with a series of apologies stressing just how regretful he is for his actions.

Golfers around the world have come to Kim’s defense, and many have pointed out that PGA Tour players have done similar things in frustration and not even been suspended a single week. Korean-American pro Kevin Na, who has served as a mentor to Kim, made it clear where he stood on the suspension, calling it “ridiculous.” Na’s caddie Kenny Harms wore a “Free Bio Kim” hat during the opening round of the Shriners on Thursday.

But there’s one curious law lurking in the background of this story, a law that indirectly led to the entire controversy. Golf Channel reported that PGA Tour players were sent a memo Wednesday reminding them that, “it is illegal in South Korea and Japan for any mobile phone manufacturer to sell a phone that allows the user to silence the faux shutter sound on their mobile phone camera.” In short, every photo must make noise.

The law exists for privacy reasons, preventing people from snapping illicit photos in silence. It dates back to the release of the Kyocera VP-210, one of the first cell phones to come with a proper camera. Authorities learned that after the phone came out, voyeuristic photos in crowded places were on the rise.

In Japan, the mandate actually came down from cell phone carriers, who made it so that any camera activity would have an accompanying sound. A SoftBank spokesman told Engadget in 2016 that the original rule was enacted “to prevent camera phones from being used in ways offensive to public morals.” Device manufacturers including Apple cooperated with that decision, customizing iPhones accordingly. In South Korea, the government went on to set a specific recommendation in 2004 that phone cameras make a sound louder than 65 decibels.

Of course, it also means potential complications for golf tournaments held in Korea and Japan. But that’s where the Tour is headed in October to play the CJ Cup (in South Korea) and the Zozo Championship (in Japan).

Golf Channel added that the Tour told its players that at those events, marshals “will instruct spectators not to distract players on the tee boxes, in the landing areas and around the greens by taking pictures during a swing.”

There are sure to be plenty of phones present at both events, not to mention the star-studded Japan Skins game featuring Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day the Monday of the Zozo. But players and fans alike are likely to be on higher alert for a stray shutter sound.