Do you know the Internet regulation going on behind the scenes of the disaster in Japan? I’ve found a terrible article in the Chunichi on 11th. I’ll translate it into English as below…
Just right before the Japan Earthquake on March 11, some amendments so-called the cybercrime measure including revision of criminal law has been approved by the Cabinet. The measure contains elements infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed secrecy of communication. It must be necessary to be discussed sufficiently, but the measure was submitted to the Diet on April 1st, when the world was seething from the nuclear accident. It seems that that fuss caused by the false alarms about the earthquake through the Internet is backing the bill.
At the beginning of April, a “gag law turmoil” which bemused Internet users occurred. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications requested on April 6 four Internet organizations “proper responses” including deleting over false rumors about the earthquake and the nuclear accident. People have acted repulsively, saying “It’s the control of Internet!” The request sought for taking “necessary measures” towards offensive things to laws or public order and moral because there was much unreliable information on the quake spreading online. “Deleting” was also included in the measure and it provoked people’s alarms for the trespass against our free-speech rights.
The person in charge in the Consumer Policy Division is emphasizing that it’s just a request to delete what they can do based on their guidelines or conditions of those organizations as in the past, and is repeating “The ministry don’t get engaged in each item individually.” Indeed, there have been some obvious false rumors on the Internet after the quake, such as “Foreign thieves groups are looting in the devastated area,” or “The earthquake was an artificial one by a new weapon.” The government involvement, however, could cause excessive self-regulation.
The reason why people concern about the “gag law” is because there is a movement for the Internet regulation in the backdrop. The submitted cybercrime measure is the prime example. Its main purpose is to enact the necessary domestic legislation before ratifying to the Convention on Cybercrime in the Council of Europe, but the content has just been made by removing a part of related bills of conspiracy, which has been scrapped three times in the past. The bill would permit to punish the creation of computer virus and investigative authorities to demand Internet service providers and enterprises to keep communication data for a maximum of 60 days. It would be also easier for investigators to confiscate electronic data.
The government has tinkered the bill, for example, they’ve changed to a maximum of 60 days from 90 days in the scrapped conspiracy bill. But nothing fundamental has changed. Such a meaningful bill is moving forward to the enactment without adequate discussion while struggling for taking actions on the earthquake and its tsunami disaster and the nuclear accident. Especially, it could violate the constitutionally guaranteed “secrecy of communication” to keep communication data. “Secrecy of communication” is one of the most important rights with prohibiting formal censorship, following “freedom of expression” in Article 21 of the Constitution. They have been put in the statutory form out of regret of the censorship prewar.
An Internet provider says, “We’ve left the data from the request of the investigator before the distress warrant issues under assumption of its issuance. But we’re wondering what to do without guarantee.” The Ministry of Justice says on their website, “It has no problems to seek to keep communication data without the distress warrant because it just asks not to delete data too much and it’s not to show the contents to the investigator. It doesn’t restrict secrecy of communication.” That is, they say that who emailed whom is not included in “secrecy of communication” because it’s not the contents of the email. In fact, Mr. Nobuyuki Iwao in the ministry says, “Secrecy of communication is not unlimited. The minimum regulation is allowable for the sake of the public welfare.”
However, Prof. Masahiro Usaki, the professor of Dokkyo University Law School, explains, “Secrecy of communication includes not only the contents of communications won’t be censored but also the existence itself of the communication won’t be sensed by the authority.” The bill is emphasized the particularity of cybercrimes, but Prof. M. Usaki fears, “If they could regulate the secrecy on the Internet, they might do the same things over mails and phone calls.” He also says, “Freedom of speech guarantees the minority’s voice. We can say anything freely from the beginning. The reason why it’s written in the Constitution is because we should safeguard minority opinions.”
Moreover, Prof. Yasuhiko Tajima, the professor of Jochi University, says, “One of the Internet’s advantages is ensuring speech for criticism of false alarms as well. Citizens should conquer problems on the Internet by themselves, and public power shouldn’t break in.” He also points out, “We should pay attention to the fact that the bill was submitted while everyone was distracted by the earthquake and the nuke accident. The government might be exploiting people’s fears for cybercrimes or false alarms on the disaster. They start with something small and then expand control subjects later. It’s a typical method for gagging.”
(The original article written by Ms. Yoko Nakayama of the Chunichi, translated by Moshimoshimo)