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Japan: Illegal or Harmful?

Blogger Sakiyama Nobuo [ja], a social activist who has covered the area of web censorship in Japan for many years, early last week responded to a conversation initiated by fellow blogger Minakata Tsukasa [ja] on the topic of the regulation of so-called “harmful” websites [ja]. The blog entry is long and heavy in legal terminology, but it provides a useful overview of the current state of legal controls on Internet content in Japan, something which may come in handy in the future.

He starts by distinguishing between “illegal” and “harmful”:


This argument is frequently made by lining things up as “illegal/harmful”, but of course, “illegal” and “harmful” are completely different concepts, and on top of this, even just saying “illegal” in one breath can mean various different things. The phenomena that are currently occurring are complex, and if, while grasping these each individually, they are not considered collectively, then arguments become pretty strange.

He then observes that “illegal” is less ambiguous than “harmful”, and so begins the discussion from Japan's “Provider Liability Limitation Law”, which Minakata claims covers illegal sites. Sakiyama argues that it is not actually so simple:

プロバイダ責任制限法は、プロバイダの民事責任を制限するに過ぎない。簡単に言って、著作権侵害とか、名誉毀損・プライバシー侵害とか、そういう民事の問題について、知らなきゃ責任無い(監視義務もない)し、申立てに基づいて「送信防止」するさいも、内容がそれらしくてデュー・プロセスで処理されていれば、情報発信者の利益を損なう部分について責任無いよ、というだけだ。 厳密な話とか、業界ガイドラインとかは、プロバイダ責任制限法対応事業者協議会によるサイトを参照のこと。刑法的な問題は、プロバイダ責任制限法ではカバーされていない。

The Provider Liability Limitation Law does not go beyond the service provider's civil liability. To put it simply, in the case of civil affairs problems like copyright violations, slander and privacy violation, if they don't know anything [of what is going on], then they are not held responsible (and they have no duty to monitor either). Even if based on a petition they do “block transmission”, if the contents seem to be what is claimed, and if things are handled with due process, then [the provider] has no responsibility for profits lost by those who were transmitting the information. For a precise account or industry guidelines, refer to the site of the providers’ council regarding ISP Law. Issues of criminal law are not covered by the Provider Limited Liability Law.


I suppose for the criminal part, in terms of what kind of things could become problems, illegal information in the Operational Guidelines of the Internet Hotline Center is the reference for the time being (although I have a feeling that it is also hard to say what is exactly covered by this). There are problems with the classification of these guidelines, but for now, looking at particular cases, these things are listed: child porn, public displays of obscenity, violation of the law banning prostitution, violation of regulations for online dating sites, abetting the misuse of controlled substances, advertising controlled substances, enticing [people] to hand over the bankbook for their deposits and savings accounts, and enticing [people] to lend their mobile phone anonymously. While there are major violations of individual interests protected by law, like child porn, the majority are things that are taken to be crimes in that they violate societal interests protected by law.


こういった情報と疑われるものについて、プロバイダが「送信防止」したから、といって、情報発信者の権利を侵害するとして問題になることは、あまりない。そもそも、多くの場合は、プロバイダは契約者との間で結ぶ規約で、そういったことが問題になることを防ぐ規定を入れている。 具体的な議論は、2006年のインターネット協会主催セミナーにおける森亮二弁護士の発表などがネット上にある(森弁護士は、学会で論文なども発表していたと思うが私はそこまでチェックしていない)。

Even if information is suspected of being of one of these kinds, and the provider “blocks transmission”, there will be few instances in which they run into problems for having violated the rights of the person transmitting the information. From the start, in many cases it is treated as a provision defending the agreement binding the provider and the subscriber from the possibility that these kinds of things could become a problem. For a concrete discussion, lawyer Mori Ryouji's presentation at the 2006 Seminar hosted by the Internet Association Japan is available on the net (I think Mori Ryouji has presented his papers and so on at academic meetings, but I haven't gone as far as to check this.)


Even so, although there is talk that “the safe [thing to do is] to delete”, just because the provider ignored this, does not mean that they will face criminal charges. In every case in which [the provider] has been questioned regarding abetting a crime (or, depending on the situation, the person directly responsible for the crime), it seems that there was a situation in which [the provider] was slightly more proactively involved, or had admitted to the state of affairs (for a reference, see the above-mentioned presentation by lawyer Mori Ryouji). In truth, not all domestic websites judged to be illegal based on reports sent to the Internet Hotline Center are actually deleted. All [sites] judged to be illegal by the Hotline Center are reported to the National Police Agency, but from there, if the police move to deal with the “illegal” [site], then as a prerequisite they must first perform an investigation and identify a suspect, refer the case to the prosecutor's office, and decide on the action to take; if the case is not worth going this far, then nothing happens. After the police, if the reported site, the provider and so on are left alone, then it ends there.

He then points out that even certain types of voluntary child porn, if left on free bulletin boards, will not necessarily be taken down, and that a lot of “illegal” content is in fact simply left on these bulletin boards as spam. He then continues:


For the moment, as you can see from [what has been outlined] above, it is a matter of fact that there are various types of “illegal information” on the Internet, and in terms of numbers, many of these, while acknowledged to concretely exist, are ignored. In a certain sense, the police do not have enough free time to enforce an investigation of and eliminate “illegal information not worth worrying about”, and the in the case of the provider as well, if there is a premise of protecting secrecy of communication and freedom of expression, they will be careful not to restrict the transmission of information. As well, among the overflowing free or extremely cheap hosting or rental bulletin boards in the “revolution of cheap” (and there are more than a few free ones which do not demand personal information for registration), there is a situation in which, without being aware of it, [people] have become “providers”, or have neglected the site that they set up, or forgot about its existence; I imagine that there are more than a few small corporations or individuals in this situation who, before being watchful about restricting information transmission, will say that they do not even have any awareness [of this situation], or say that there is no system to receive reports.


However, just because there are these kinds of cases, does not mean, if one takes into consideration the rights of the user, that it is such a simple thing to send a report to a service provider — who has a higher status than the person who establishes the bulletin board, or the person who offers bulletin board rental, or to the person who offers hosting — and eliminate [the problem].


In this sense, it is fair to say that there is clearly a part of the framework of the “regulation of illegal sites” with a hole in it. To a certain degree, this kind of hole is created by basic human rights laid down in the constitution. This relates not just to secrecy of communication, but also to personal liberty. We have created a society in which, since this kind of thing is adequately regulated by national law enforcement, insignificant violations of law are ignored as long as there is nothing which seriously opposes social justice; a society that does not create a strained atmosphere.


  • chuck o'dowdson

    Its nuts to believe that for one moment, ones personal opinions regarding any topic are comprehended at a global level. Nudity of persons of any age in Papau New Guinne for instance is just not held as being of any importance and sure nothing out of the ordinary. Japan neither, their entire culture circulates around the bath and nudity again of persons of any age is not considered in terms as silly liberal Americans do for instance. One extra comment regarding “hate speech” is that censorship comes in the form of defining something as hate speech when all that may be present is another point of view. But most liberals do not enjoy debate nor to hear opposing points of view — The topic of naked people of any age has gone on for far too long and like the Greeks, I feel that healthy persons see beauty in the nude regardless of the age group.

  • […] CPSR/Japan VP comments on the Japanese proposal on the regulation of illigal/harmful websites. […]

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