Damaged Justice frogfarm at yakko.cs.wmich.edu
Mon Aug 18 17:48:11 PDT 1997

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         Commentary: In Japan, Moves to Regulate the Net [6][LINK]
                              By TOMOKO SAITO
                         c.1997 Asahi News Service
     T he following commentary appears in Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's
                            leading newspapers:
      Abusive uses of the Internet, such as the illegal posting of the
       photograph and name of a juvenile suspect in recent Kobe child
    killings, have spurred government officials to consider bringing the
                     Net under some kind of regulation.
    Violations of privacy and libel cases began increasing conspicuously
   last year, giving rise to calls for the companies that provide access
                to the Internet to adopt voluntary controls.
   In February last year, a Tokyo company employee who opened a home page
   with a Japanese provider was arrested by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police
      Department on charges of displaying obscene images. A series of
                        arrests was made elsewhere.
      This spring, advisory bodies to the Posts and Telecommunications
       Ministry and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry
                  recommended that some rules be drafted.
    The Telecom Services Association of Japan, a trade body having about
      400 providers as members, drew up draft guidelines for voluntary
      regulation. The guidelines call for providers to take action for
             improvement in response to complaints from users.
          Some providers have drafted manuals for self-regulation.
   The circulation of the Kobe student's photograph and his real name on
     the Net had a particularly strong impact, prompting authorities to
            think that voluntary regulations may be inadequate.
   But official regulation could deprive the Internet of its good points.
     The best thing about the Net is that it enables people to exchange
          information freely. That is why it has grown so rapidly.
   There are areas where new systems are needed to protect users, such as
      electronic financial transactions. But in areas relating to the
   freedom of expression, a cautious approach is required in dealing with
    abuses, so that the good points of the Internet will not suffer from
    What is unique about the Net is that anyone, in addition to being a
      recipient of information through the system, can easily become a
    supplier of information. That becomes possible for anyone who owns a
       personal computer, a communications modem and has access to a
    telephone circuit. A contract signed with a provider enables him or
                 her to open a home page on the Net freely.
    Popular home pages have thousands of accesses a day, which gives an
             individual the influence of a publishing company.
   The Internet has the potential of transforming contemporary society in
       which those who send out information - such as newspapers and
   television stations - are separate from those who receive it - such as
                             people in general.
   In Europe, calls to bring the Net under control started to mount last
     year. In Germany, a so-called multimedia law was passed in July to
      stipulate the scope of providers' responsibility in dealing with
     troubles, such as human rights violations and libel cases. The law
    requires providers to appoint officials to handle complaints or give
    advice on the impact on juveniles of violent and obscene information
                                on the Net.
   Also in July, a working group set up by the Organization for Economic
       Cooperation and Development held its first meeting to discuss
    international cooperation to bring the Net under control. France and
        Belgium were particularly vocal in calling for such a group.
   Compared with the Europeans, the Americans are more inclined to leave
        the matter of regulation to private initiatives. The Clinton
   administration's proposal to regulate indecent images on the Net under
   the telecommunications act ran into objections on the grounds that it
    could infringe on the freedom of expression. The Supreme Court ruled
              in June that the proposal was unconstitutional.
    In Japan, the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of expression
       naturally extends to individuals who supply information on the
   Internet. It follows that any kind of censorship about Net information
    should not be tolerated. Whether a certain expression is appropriate
    or not should be left up to people to determine in the ''freedom of
                             thought'' market.
     Any attempt to force informal controls on providers should also be
   resisted, given the important role played by them as media in addition
                     to being ''communications'' firms.
   As for the question of controlling obscene images, efforts to dissolve
    the gaps that have developed between the law and reality should come
     first. Porn books that are brought back from abroad are seized by
     customs officers, and a Japanese who opens a home page that shows
       nudes can be punished. But it is easy to access a more radical
    American home page, and no legal punishment awaits those who look at
                   the images such a home page provides.
   The punitive provisions should be reexamined to determine whether they
     are really needed if people who do not want to see pornography are
                      assured that they can avoid it.
   Of course, young people must be protected. A system that blocks access
   to porn and violence on the Net, when mounted in personal computers at
     home or at school, is being introduced in Western countries. Japan
   should consider following their example, but I believe whether or not
   to use it should be left up to the judgment of each household that has
                                acquired it.
     ``Let us wait for the new media to mature by thoroughly educating
    information suppliers on their responsibility,'' said Jiro Makino, a
       lawyer familiar with Net troubles. What he has in mind is that
   suppliers who operate on the basis of the freedom of expression should
    have a high ethical standard and be prepared to take responsibility
                   for the consequences of their actions.
      I believe that is what it takes to head off state interference.
    (The author is a reporter for Asahi Shimbun's City News Department.)
                           NYT-08-18-97 1104EDT<
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