Protecting the constitutional rights to privacy: Study Group on Platform Services recommends an interim report

I have not been writing about these in my English blog, but since it is a highly impacting policy group, has been garnering high interest from mass-media as well, and is close to publish its interim report, here is a bit of report about it.

The Study Group is a study group formed under the Information and Communications Council of Japan, ICC, and is tasked to come up with reports on

  1. The status and recommendations on the handling of the user information (including confidentiality of communication, privacy information) and differences in the rules etc. among the telecommunication carriers and the platform providers (e.g., GAFA)
  2. The way the Trust services within Japan should be constituted so that it will serve both the local needs as well as the international interoperability from the point of view of the smooth data transfers using platform service within and across borders.

The Google translated pages for the study group can be reached from this link.

The study group has been earning a lot of interest from the public in Japan and has been a topic in the nationally broadcast-ed news. For example, on the first day it was reported in NHK 1news as in the following picture.

NHK reported that ‘A discussion has started on the processing of personal data by foreign IT companies. Ministry of interior and communication held the first experts meeting in the context of “stricter protection of personal data led by Europe”‘ (Source) NHK News (2018-10-18)

The study group has been meeting 6 times excluding the vendor interviews in 4 months. During the time, the meeting of the group has been reported in multiple TV venues often in the context of “How to harness GAFA under the Japanese law” like below.

NHK reporting “How to harness GAFA with the regulation. Experts meeting in the Ministry of Interior and Communication, yesterday.” (Source) NHK Oha-Biz Nippon (2019-01-22)

This may require some explanation to the reader of this blog.

In Japan, the secrecy and the privacy of communication is a constitutional right. To materialize it, the Telecommunications Business Law (1984) explicitly requires the minimization of the processing of the content and metadata of the communication (e.g., voice call, email) except in the case where there is an explicit consent of the user. The issue at hand is, the regulation is only applicable to the service providers that bases its business and facilities in Japan. Thus, services like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (collectively called GAFA) were claiming that they do not have to comply with the law and thus can read the messages for example to push ads. This, from many people’s point of view, is a bug of the law: in 1984, the internet was not there and such a cross-border service provision enabled by the internet was not considered.

So, the ICC was commissioned a study on the issue and formed this study group.

The meeting this week was the sixth and it unanimously recommended a 48 pages interim report in the presence of the Ms. Yukari Sato, the Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications and it immediately hit the newsroom.

TBS TV News reported the application of the “Confidentiality of communication” to “GAFA” right after the meeting was done. (Source) TBS News (2019-02-13)

Well, the TVs speak of “GAFA”, but there is no mention of it in the report, by the way. The study group is talking about how to protect the constitutional right of the people living in Japan to the privacy of communication from any party that is taking advantage of the loophole. It equally applies to any entity inside or outside Japan, and the nationality of the entity actually does not matter.

The report is not yet public as the secretariat is applying the changes based on the comments acquired during the sixth meeting but will be soon and the report will go under the public review period between Feb. 18 to March 8. So, stay tuned.

NEW: The report is now available from http://www.soumu.go.jp/menu_news/s-news/01kiban18_01000058.html

Footnotes

  1. Japanese version of BBC

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