SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's opposition party lawmakers were staging the country's first filibuster for nearly 50 years on Thursday (Feb 25) to block an anti-terrorism Bill that gives more surveillance powers to the country's spy agency.
As of Thursday morning, seven lawmakers from the main opposition Minju Party and Justice Party had taken turns to hold the main floor of Parliament for more than 40 hours since late on Tuesday.
In the country's first filibuster since 1969, lawmaker Eun Soo Mi on Wednesday delivered a speech for more than 10 hours - a local record - to call for the disputed Bill to be revised.
The Bill, pushed by the ruling conservative Saenuri Party, allows the spy agency to collect a wide range of personal data - some without court warrant - including phone records of those suspected of posing a security threat.
The Bill also allows the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to have Internet posts deleted if it deems they pose a threat to public security.
The Saenuri Party currently holds more than a half of the parliamentary seats and top party officials earlier vowed to pass the bill without revisions demanded by opposition lawmakers.
"If this Bill becomes the law, the NIS will have tremendous, unbridled power to monitor the lives of our citizens and to collect their personal information," Ms Yoo Seung Hee of the Minju Party said.
"This law will seriously rock the very foundation of our democracy," she said in a five-hour speech on Thursday morning before another lawmaker took over the podium.
President Park Geun Hye said that the Bill was aimed at helping protect South Korean citizens from the growing threat of terrorism, including from North Korea.
But opposition party lawmakers argue that the Bill may be used to monitor and crack down on political dissent.
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 organising an online smear campaign against the liberal opposition candidate during the 2012 presidential poll won by Park.
Critics say freedom of assembly and expression has been significantly eroded in recent years, accusing Park, daughter of the late autocratic ruler Park Chung Hee, of slipping towards authoritarian rule.