Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Governmental Monitoring in Japan - PRISM Scandal?

As the PRISM scandal struck the U.S., there is a controversy over whether or to what extent the government may monitor private activities especially the ones online. The scandal is also widely broadcasted in Japan and last Tuesday, my friend (who is an associate professor at Chuo University) was interviewed live by a Japanese TV show. In Japan, there are two important issues regarding governmental monitoring of private activities.

First, there is a famous scandal of Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Public Security Bureau. In late 2010, the bureau’s documents on alleged “terrorists” were somehow uploaded to a peer-to-peer network. What struck the Japanese society, especially foreigners residing in Japan, was that the police regarded the Muslim community in Japan as an organization in close connection with terrorists.  After the documents were disclosed, many protests occurred and finally, the police admitted that the information in the documents was the police information. This scandal reminded us how close and constant the police are monitoring us.

Second, another issue is the amendment of the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2011 (introduction of the Article 197-3) by which the police may ask information companies for the preservation of the data of a certain individual. This means that the police may ask for Facebook to preserve the communication log between User A and User B for 30 days and Facebook would have the obligation to comply with the request. Some opponents of the amendment called this a “cyber monitoring law.” 

It is difficult to tell whether it is a cyber monitoring law or not but one thing that is certain is that what this amendment enabled the police to ask is the preservation of past data not the retention of current and future data.  This means that currently the degree of the privacy invasion by the 2011 amendment is not very wide and strong. But we need to be careful about (1) whether the police may abuse the new authority to ask for retention and (2) whether the government will amend the code further to enable the police to ask for preservation, which would be more problematic than mere retention.

DISCLAIMER: "IT Law issues in Japan" only provides general information about Japanese information technology law and does not, under any circumstances, constitute legal advice. You should first obtain the advice of professional legal counsel who is qualified in Japan before acting or refraining from acting based on this blog.

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