[INTERVIEW] Legislation ministry seeks expanded role in setting rules for artificial intelligence

Bomi Yoon

Government Legislation Minister Lee Wan-kyu speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the Government Complex in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Oct. 5. Courtesy of MOLEG

Minister considers new bureau to oversee AI

By Nam Hyun-woo

The need to regulate the unlimited possibilities and risks of artificial intelligence (AI) is increasing in tandem with the expanding domain of the new technology.

Regulators across the world are starting to come up with rules and regulations for AI and President Yoon Suk Yeol reiterated the importance of establishing similar statutes during his latest diplomatic outings, aiming for Korea to take the initiative in global efforts to manage AI.

In line with this effort, Government Legislation Minister Lee Wan-kyu said his ministry, which examines laws and regulations and provides statutory interpretation, seeks to set up “a future legislation division” to cope with rules and regulations related to AI, because such measures require pan-government efforts and international cooperation.

“In order to be the leader in a certain industry, related rules and orders must follow,” Lee said during an interview with The Korea Times, Oct. 5.

“What is important is that we should be the leader in setting those rules, not a follower of rules made by other countries. This will make exporting the country’s AI technologies easier. We all know that doing business according rules created by other countries is more difficult than setting our own rules.”

So far, the Korean government, including the Ministry of Government Legislation (MOLEG), has been attempting to use AI technologies, especially generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, mostly out of curiosity and convenience. But Lee said it is time to expand the government’s perspective to explore ways to regulate the AI industry as well as promote it.

“The rules on AI should contain articles that can regulate the flip side of AI technologies, and at the same time, it should be mandated at establishing the grounds for the growth of the AI industry,” Lee said.

According to the minister, MOLEG identifies three areas as the key points of AI-related rules — nurturing the AI industry, regulating the bots from making up fake information and preventing violations of existing rules on copyrights, intellectual property and personal information.

“As we use ChatGPT for homework, workplace research and other daily purposes, we oftentimes notice that the tool is making things up, especially when there are missing links in data that the AI has gathered,” said Lee, a former prosecutor.

“That raises the question of who will be responsible for proofreading and who will be liable for the fabrication? Similar questions mushroom when it comes to intellectual property and personal information.”

To limit those risks, Korea’s government and the National Assembly are now drafting their ideas on legislating AI-related rules.

Since 2020, the Ministry of Science and ICT has been running expert groups on AI legislation, on the issues of personal information, copyrights, credit information as well as categorizing risks that the bots can pose on human life and rights.

There are also multiple AI-related bills tabled at the National Assembly. Of them, ruling People Power Party lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo tabled a bill on “AI Responsibility and Regulation,” and attempts to set up a legal categorization of forbidden AI, high-risk AI and low-risk AI.

For example, the bill categorized AI used for energy, healthcare, crime investigation, credit information and other fields related to national infrastructure as high-risk AI, and enforce their developers to undergo risk assessment.

“Since we are not the science ministry, we need to learn more about technological aspects in order to help the legislation of AI rules,” Lee said. “That is why I believe MOLEG should set up a future legislation division which is in charge of AI-related bills and other advanced legislations that span across sectors.”

Legal information service

Lee said MOLEG is also conducting research on using generative AI tools to provide legal services to the public and even sharing this technology with developing countries.

Along with its role of handling government legislation, MOLEG is known to the public for its advanced legal information system, which enables people to have easier access to complex laws.

MOLEG’s Korea Law Information Center provides not only acts, presidential decrees or other rules, but also judicial precedents and interconnect related laws to improve user accessibility. As this gained international recognition for its convenience, the ministry shared or is sharing this technology with other countries, including Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam.

However, the minister said the entire playing field has changed with the emergence of generative AI.

“While our services are confined to show the full text of a certain law or tell which laws are related to which one, generative AI is almost providing legal services to users,” he said.

“For example, if you are illegally arrested, generative AI can tell you which laws are relevant to your case and even provide information on what kind of legal actions you should take.”

Lee said the government believes it should not lag behind private companies at least in terms of the law, and the ministry began basic research on how to incorporate generative AI tools into its legal information service to let the public to use it for free.

However, Lee said it remains undecided to what extent MOLEG will provide legal information to the public.

“If our AI-powered information system provides solutions to a legal case, such as legal counselling by lawyers, it could be an encroachment into their territory,” Lee said.

“It might be convenient for the public if we were to provide a solution, and it will not be violating laws because our services would be free. However, it still intrudes into their professional domain. Determining the precise boundary, where we avoid such encroachments, is a matter under consideration.”

MOLEG’s legal information service also provides information on overseas acts and laws to help Korean businesses enter foreign markets.

Ministry officials said foreign legal information services are receiving rave reviews from companies, and the ministry is seeking to expand its coverage to provide legal information on countries that are attractive markets for Korean firms.

“We should expand our legal information database about Ukraine,” Lee said. “In order to play roles in Ukraine’s post-war restoration projects, the first step will be improving knowledge of the country’s laws and rules.”

Government Legislation Minister Lee Wan-kyu delivers his opening remarks during the opening ceremony of the 10th Asian Legislative Experts Symposium (ALES) at the Fairmont Ambassador Seoul in Yeouido, Sept. 29, 2022. Courtesy of MOLEG

Decade of collective ideas on legislation

Along with these ideas, MOLEG will discuss ways for multilateral cooperation in legislation during the 11th Asian Legislative Experts Symposium (ALES).

Scheduled for Oct. 27 at the Glad Yeouido hotel in Seoul, ALES will gather legislative experts from Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Laos under the theme of “Asia United in Laws and Systems, Legislative Exchange and Cooperation for Mutual Development.”

This year’s event will focus on expanding legislative exchanges between Asian nations to enable a comprehensive cooperation scheme across the region.

“The event will be likely be a catalyst for a legislative cooperation scheme across Asia,” Lee said.

“The symposium will also help Korea consolidate its status as an advanced nation in legislative systems, as the event has been serving as a venue for memoranda of understanding and other agreements on legislative exchanges between Korea and other participating countries.”

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