Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The First “Internet Election” in Japan

The Japanese election system is full of restrictions.  Public Offices Election Act (“Act”) stipulates detailed dos and don'ts. Some of them are as follows:
  • Election campaign, or the activity for the purpose of collecting votes for a certain candidate at a certain election, may only be conducted within 17-day (House of Councilors) or 12-day (House of Representatives) campaign period before the election.
  • The usage of documents and drawings for the purpose of the campaign is not allowed unless specified by the Act. Some of the “permitted” documents are brochures, posters and mails.  But the number of brochures a candidate may use is determined by the Act. The number and the place of plastering posters are determined by the Act. And the number of mails a candidate may send is determined by the Act.
  • No door-to-door visits are allowed.
  • No seasons greeting cards by the candidate or the Diet members (with a small exception).
  • The ways a candidate may use campaign truck for the campaign are stipulated in the Act in detail.
  • High nomination deposit (around $30,000).
  • No minors may engage in the election campaign.

Before 2013, the usage of the Internet is also one of the banned items in the list above. The administrative interpretation of the act is that as the Internet is a means of disseminating the information, the general ban of “documents and drawings” is applicable. Without any specific clause in the Act to allow the usage of the Internet, it is interpreted that the Internet is not the tool that can be used for the campaign. What happened is that while candidates and Diet members generally uses the Internet, such as webpage and SNSs, they suddenly stop updating the webpage or the wall when the election campaign period starts.

However, for many Japanese people, the Internet is a very basic infrastructure. It is very odd in this digital age to ban the usage of the Internet for the election campaign.  Also, some people argued that the usage of the Internet in the election campaign can contribute to the democracy in Japan, since even a poor candidate may be able to get elected by efficiently using the Internet, especially the Social Networking Sites.

This year, the Act was amended so that some usage of the Internet for the campaign was allowed. The coming election for the House of Councils is the first “Internet Election” and the campaign period starts on July 4, 2013.
 Basically, there are the regulation for emails and other means of the Internet. Regarding the emails, only the candidates and the parties may send emails for the campaign. This means that supporters shall not send any email for the election campaign. When candidates and parties send emails, there are some obligations such as to clearly indicate the name of the sender and sender’s address. Also, the senders must preserve the record of the email for a certain period of time. 

On other means of the Internet, not only the candidates and the parties but also anyone (such as supporters) may use the Internet for the campaign. But in such case, there are some obligations such as to clearly state the email address of the author.

There are some practical problems basically attributable to the fact that the Act did not make any changes in other restrictions. For example, we cannot print out the campaign website and distribute it. The reason is that it is the violation of the general prohibition of the usage of documents and drawings for the purpose of campaign. Also, a minor’s retweet or the liking of the campaign tweet/post may constitute an illegal engagement in the election campaign by minors. But I doubt that these important issues are widely known by the Internet users. 

Therefore I hope that the government makes a stronger effort to announce these problematic issues so that there would be no major troubles in this first “Internet Election.” I also hope that the government may treat “innocent mistakes” (especially those made by non-candidates) generously.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment