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Japanese data losses expose surveillance of foreign residents

December 6, 2010

A scandal over leaked security documents has exposed the Japanese security service’s monitoring of foreigners, amongst other ‘anti-terrorist’ operations. The documents were posted on the web in November, and according to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun last month, include “a list of foreigners being monitored by the division, and files related to secret police strategies – for example, guidelines for nurturing informants”.

Not only does this expose the concentration of the Japanese security services on foreigners, many included on the list simply by virtue of being ‘foreign’, rather than being any actually determined threat, but it is also a reminder that the Japanese laws on information sharing, leaking and so on, are archaic. As the newspaper says:

“At present, there is no law to punish those leaking confidential information. Even worse, stealing electronic data is not included in the list of offenses punishable under the Penal Code. In many cases, this makes it impossible for suspects to be held criminally responsible.”

I am not quite sure that the theft of electronic data is actually unpunishable, at least from conversations I have had with specialists in Japan, however I should add that there is, I am told, no law against selling stolen electronic data, which means that even if the theft could be punished, it would not reduce the economic incentives to steal data (which I have mentioned before is not uncommon).

Then of course there is the wider issue of whether it serves a higher purpose that this information is released anyway. No doubt it does embarrass the government, but there is not reason to think that this actively compromises real security in Japan as the NPA are quoted as claiming. If anything this does us a favour in reminding just how prejudiced much of the Japanese state’s relationship with its foreign residents, especially those who are non-white, is, and how much state surveillance is directed at them.

(thanks to Ikuko Inoue for sending me this story)

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