Policy Update 007 Urgent Appeal
Opposition to the Privacy Bill that Regulates the Internet
Senior Fellow, RIETI
Today Diet established a special committee to discuss the bill to protect personal information, to which the Cabinet gave its renewed approval in March following the abortion of the initial bill in the extraordinary Diet session last year. In reworking the bill, the government deleted the "basic principles" that had been included in the original bill and called for an "appropriate manner" in collecting personal information, and exempted those engaged in the "profession of writing" including media organizations from restrictions under the proposed law. However, database operators including the owners of homepages of World Wide Web (WWW), the world's largest distributed database, would be regulated by the proposed legislation. All entities and individuals, whether seeking profits or not, would be subjected to the restrictions when they hold personal information - that is, any information including people's names - concerning individuals of more than a designated number (supposedly 5,000) to be stipulated by an ordinance. Companies engaged in electronic commerce or other business activities via the Internet as well as individuals operating a homepage that carries more than 5,000 individual names would be put under the supervision of a "minister in charge."
Article 23 of the proposed law stipulates that those handling personal information must not provide information concerning individuals to a third party without their consent. Under the provisions of this article, administrative punishment would be imposed on a Web site operator that has refused an individual's request to have certain information about him or her deleted from the Web site. Should operators of bulletin board systems and search engines be flooded with such information deletion requests in accordance with the law, it would become extremely difficult for them to maintain their sites. Not only that, scandals involving politicians and companies or any other adverse information may disappear from the WWW and the freedom of expression in the world of the Internet may be impaired. Indeed, a number of lawsuits have been filed in Europe to demand the deletion of certain homepages based on the European Union Directive on Personal Data Privacy, invoking disputes over electronic commerce between the EU and the United States.
The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association insists that the proposed law may result in the imposition of "unjust interventions" in the freedom of expression under the disguise of privacy protection. But this is not a question that solely concerns media organizations. All the other entities operating and/or holding databases, software, and other digital contents should be protected from unjust interventions. Four major opposition parties, however, jointly submitted a counter bill that explicitly calls for "self-information control rights" demanding that individuals be involved in the acquisition and use of information about them. The counter bill would be stricter than the government-sponsored bill that would impose restriction only on the passing of personal information. Should revisions be made to the government-sponsored bill in a way proposed by the opposition parties, it might necessitate obtaining a prior approval from an individual in handling offline a file containing his or her name. The freedom of expression, as stipulated in the Constitution, must be guaranteed not only for media organizations but for all the Japanese people. We are against both the government-sponsored bill and the one submitted by the four opposition parties, and we request that the government-sponsored bill be revised as follows:
- Section 1 of Chapter 4 that restricts the provision of personal information with penalties should be eliminated.
- The basic principles that were included in the original bill but have been eliminated in the currently proposed bill should be revived, clarifying the idea that all the companies and individuals are to equally strive for the protection of personal information.
- An alternative dispute resolution (ADR) organization should be created to exclusively handle disputes relating to personal information on an ex-post basis, instead of having a "minister in charge" to supervise the handling of such information.
The protection of personal information should be, in principle, left to self-regulation. The scope of government-imposed restrictions on information should be limited to the minimum that includes credit information and clinical history. And for the protection of such critical information, the government may as well take a separate legislative step. In the era of the Internet where just anyone can become an information provider, comprehensive restrictions such as those under the proposed privacy law are susceptible to abuse. To avoid this, government roles should be limited to creating guidelines for privacy protection and providing support in settling disputes. Some people say that the creation of an ADR organization runs counter to the ongoing administrative reforms. However, we believe that minimizing the roles of the government and having the judicial authorities handle any disputes incurred will embody an administrative reform in a true sense. We are seriously concerned with the schedule of discussion of the bill, which would bind people's freedom of mind extensively, will likely clear the chambers of the Diet after deliberations of only two weeks or so. In relation to the planned full-fledged launch of the Basic Residential Register Network System (Juki Net) in summer, it is hoped that a bill concerning privacy protection by administrative agencies, which has been submitted along with the bill in question, will be passed into law as quickly as possible. We do urge that those two bills be handled separately and legislators take time to thoroughly deliberate on the later one that concerns privacy protection by private-sector entities.
April 8, 2003
- RIETI Policy Debate Round 4: "Personal Information Protection Act Would Make the Internet Illegal" by IKEDA Nobuo, October 19, 2002
- RIETI Columns 0034: "Inconvenient Society Resulting from the Overprotection of Personal Information" by IKEDA Nobuo, September 10, 2002
- RIETI Columns 0031: "Japan's E-Government Policy - Its Security and Privacy" by YASUNOBE Shin, July 16, 2002
April 8, 2003
Article(s) by this author
January 13, 2004［Column］
November 21, 2003［RIETI Policy Debate］
October 7, 2003［Column］
June 24, 2003［Column］
May 20, 2003［Keizai Sangyo Journal］