February 01, 2018 12:20
The military has declared war on cryptocurrency speculation in the ranks, which have been as swept away by the Bitcoin frenzy as any other sector of society.
Commanding officers are giving subalterns lectures against Bitcoin trading, and some units check if any soldiers have visited cryptocurrency exchanges at Internet cafés on their bases.
The Defense Ministry already flagged the ban on Jan. 16, saying, "Trading of cyber money online interferes with soldiers' performance and keeps them from being fully prepared for combat."
The military already blocks access to porn and gambling websites in barracks, and warnings have popped up on computer screens since Jan. 15 that cryptocurrency trading websites will be blocked.
Soldiers' pay is increasing. An Army sergeant now earns about W400,000 per month, and since board and food are free that leaves some spending money that can be gambled away (US$1=W1,068).
Some conscripts had high hopes at the height of the frenzy of starting their civilian life rich. But since they are too busy to keep track of wildly fluctuating prices, they are at even greater risk than civilian speculators.
But it is difficult to prevent all soldiers from engaging in cryptocurrency trading once they are off-base or if they use their mobile phones. Some soldiers are annoyed because they do not see the trade as gambling.
A company officer said, "Commanding officers are lecturing soldiers against Bitcoin trading because it's gambling, but I frankly don't see the problem." Another officer said, "Everybody can trade in stocks if they want, so what’s the difference?"
But some officers are glued to their phones all day because cryptocurrency prices fluctuate around the clock and may neglect their duties. And unlike enlisted men, conscripts who serve their compulsory military service in public agencies and commute from home can use their private phones freely.
"They can be punished for neglecting their duties if they're trading during work hours. But it would be a violation of their rights and unlawful if they are prevented from doing it at home after hours," said lawyer Hong Seung-min. "It's also doubtful whether any lectures are really effective."
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