Hyundai Motor's Contract Rallyist Witnesses Illegal Surveillence

Aug. 03, 2023, 08:00 PM.

Hyundai Motor Group has been utilizing security service contractors to systematically surveil and monitor not only protesters in front of their headquarters but also journalists, according to an insider's testimony. It is the first time that an insider confirmed the existence of a private civilian surveillance team directly managed by Hyundai Motor. 
Korea Center for Investigative Journalism(KCIJ)-Newstapa verified the team through an interview with A, who worked at a security service company, which works for the Hyundai Motor Group headquarters in Yangjae-dong, Seocho District, southern Seoul. 
We do what we call ‘24-hour reporting.’ We report where protesters are and every move they make – where they went, whether they stood up or sat down, and if they turned on the speaker or turned it off. If a journalist approaches the rally site, or if someone like a union member is walking towards the building, we have to report every single moment. We actually go after the protesters even for their meals. We even report to our supervisors what they’re eating.

Hyundai Motor's Fake Rally Participant A
For the past 13 years, Hyundai Motor Group has made a contract with external security firms to deploy security guards including those certified ones to pose as rally participants in front of their headquarters buildings. 
Hyundai Motor Group has consistently signed up for rallies to Seocho Police Station for 365 days under the names of Hyundai and Kia, to monopolize the area in front of the headquarters and the surrounding areas. Then, it has deployed security contractors 24 hours all year around the area. Hyundai Motor has overstated the number of rally participants to as many as 270 individuals per day. 
In 2018, a court ruled that Hyundai Motor’s rallies were fake protests that “only aimed at preoccupying the area to interrupt others’ protests and abused the outdoor protest registration system.”

"It’s an emergency if we lose track of Park Mee-hee"... Surveillance and monitoring by the ‘spy team’

The duties of Hyundai Motor’s security service contractors, the so-called ‘young men in black,’ went beyond participating in the fake protests organized and reported by the automaker in front of its headquarters, where they are tasked with guarding designated areas. 
These contractors hired by Hyundai Motor Group were effectively involved in surveillance, not only of civilians protesting in front of the Hyundai headquarters but also of journalists, Newstapa found. 
Hyundai Motor's Fake Rally Participant A, who worked as the automaker’s security service contractor, stated in an interview with Newstapa that some of them work in a team called “the patrollers."
One of the young men in black, who worked at Hyundai Motor Group’s fake rallies, visited Newstapa for an interview.
The surveillance team – the so-called "patrollers” – consists of two to four members of the fake rally and operates systematically, the fake rally member A said. 
The primary target of their monitoring is Park Mee-hee. Park worked as a salesperson at a Kia Motor dealership store, and she was dismissed in 2013 after blowing the whistle on irregularities in the dealership's sales practices to Kia Motors headquarters. Since then, she has been protesting in front of Hyundai Motor Group headquarters for the past 10 years, demanding reinstatement. From Hyundai Motor's perspective, her persistent presence is troublesome.
The surveillance team closely monitors not only Park but also every single movement and action of her colleagues who participate in her rally every week. The fake rally member A testified that the spy team "follows Park Mee-hee and her colleagues around." 
“If a protester or Park gets in the car, they report that the protester got in the car. If one sleeps, they report that this person fell asleep. If one goes out to eat, they report the name of the restaurant," he said. 
He emphasized that if they lose track of Park's whereabouts, the entire fake rally team practically enters an emergency status.
For instance, we call an emergency situation if Ms. Park left the rally site to get home, but her car isn’t where she usually parks. We’re ordered to run the surveillance videos and find where she went. We do this, because if she didn’t go straight home, that would mean she could have sneaked in somewhere to do something else, like laying a mat near (Hyundai Motor buildings) or something. If this happens, we get in serious trouble.

Hyundai Motor's Fake Rally Participant A
The fake rally member A also mentioned that the fake rally team receives journalists’ contact information from Hyundai Motor Group and manages them, in an effort to prevent them from undercover reporting after working part time. 
The journalists were also subjects of surveillance and reporting, he added.
Still there are many journalists who try to work part-time at our site to undercover. But they all get found out within a day. We have phone numbers of journalists affiliated with most news outlets. So, if people apply as part-time workers, the first thing we do is to search their numbers.

Hyundai Motor's Fake Rally Participant A
The security guards and part-timers who participate in Hyundai Motor's fake rally typically wear black outfits. However, the surveillance team members don't. 
"The surveillance team usually wears white or different colors rather than black, and they follow the protesters (including Park) around whenever they move,” he said. “They dress as pedestrian as possible, and they move around so the fact that they’re shadowing and surveillance on protesters doesn't get caught.”
The surveillance team primarily consists of senior-level security guards from the security service companies in a contract with Hyundai Motor Group, the fake rally member A said. 
Those senior-level guards, whom he called ‘director’ or ‘manager,’ are on-site supervisors who directly give commands to the fake rally members – those young people in black – after receiving reports from them. The young, junior-level guards call them the ‘leader.’ 
The directors communicate directly with Hyundai Motor Group's security team and receive instructions, the fake rally member A said. This suggests that Hyundai Motor Group's internal managers are likely to play a direct role in the command and reporting structure of the  surveillance operations, particularly in monitoring protesters like Park in front of the company's headquarters.

Korean conglomerates with similar ‘spy teams’ faced criminal punishment  

Korean conglomerates’ surveillance on individuals against their interests have often caused social repercussions in the past. 
In 2015, news reports unveiled that Samsung C&T customer satisfaction team shadowed and monitored its shareholder surnamed Kang, who had raised grievances against the company by holding protests at every shareholders' meeting. 
An employee of S-1, Samsung’s security arm that was carrying out security services for Samsung C&T, was also found to have surveilled labor union officials.
In the aftermath of this incident, then-Samsung C&T President Choi Chi-hoon publicly apologized.
"This is absolutely unacceptable and should not happen,” Choi wrote in his statement. “Above all, I sincerely apologize to the petitioner (shareholder Kang).”
The head of Samsung C&T Housing Division, who was one of the reporting recipients in the surveillance operations, was dismissed from the position.
In 2010, employees of Samsung C&T were fined for organizing the surveillance on CJ Group Chairman Lee Jae-hyun.
When Newstapa asked for a response on Hyundai Motor Group’s allegation of surveilling protesters, the company officially denied the existence of such activities, stating "There is no such activities."
ReportingKim Ji-yoon, Hong Woo-ram
Video ReportingKim Ki-chul, Lee Sang-chan, Jeong Hyeong-min, Choi Hyoung-seok
Video EditingJung Ji-sung
CGJung Dong-woo
DesignLee Do-hyeon
PublishingHeo Hyeon-jae