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Editorial: Legal framework to counter online slander and violation of privacy needed

There appears to be no end to slander and violations of privacy on the Internet. According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of complaints relating to online human rights violations that have been filed with regional legal affairs bureaus has been rising every year, with 1,429 cases reported in 2014.

    However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been an increasing number of cases in which site administrators or search engine companies are asked to remove the material in question, but the procedures for doing so remain cumbersome and there are no clear criteria for material that is subject to erasure.

    The Internet served to bring the scandal over the emblems for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics to the surface. But at the same time, a designer's personal information was leaked, and he was subjected to ever-spreading character assassination online, also known as "Internet lynching."

    When a first-year junior high school student was murdered in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, earlier this year, private information about the families of the boys who were arrested showed up online. Such public disclosure of personal information is unacceptable, regardless of whether or not the people in question are at fault.

    Under the Japanese legal system, those whose information has been revealed without authorization can ask site administrators to take down that information. If site administrators continue to leave information that clearly violates someone's rights online, they could be held responsible for damages. The problem is, however, that with many websites, it's unclear who the site administrators are, making it difficult to make contact with them. Even if one is able to track down site administrators, requests to pull information off websites are not commonly met with simple, accommodating responses.

    Another possible tactic is to file a temporary injunction with the courts. Such cases have increased at the Tokyo District Court, but this requires significant amounts of time and money, since the courts require temporary injunctions to be filed separately for each website on which the information appears. Isn't it time that we implemented a legal framework that makes the process of having slanderous information taken down from the Internet simpler?

    In response to such a state of affairs, IT companies that do the work of erasing online information for individuals and corporations have emerged. One mid-sized company in Tokyo provides some several dozen consultations on a busy day. For individuals, the fee is several tens of thousands of yen per month, while for companies, the price tag runs between 150,000 and 500,000 yen.

    "In addition to negotiating with site administrators, there are other ways to make certain information less visible on a search engine," an executive at the company says. "Demand for such services will only increase."

    Requests sent to search engine companies such as Yahoo! and Google for information to be taken down have also been on the rise. This past March, Yahoo! created and released criteria for taking information down based on the need to protect people's privacy. If there are obvious rights violations in the form of uploaded sexual images or health records, Yahoo! complies with requests to take them down.

    However, a balance must be struck between rights violations and the freedom of expression and the right to know, when dealing with erasing information from the Internet. Currently, the final say is left up to each search engine company; we need further debate on the criteria for erasing information from the Internet.

    Online anonymity can promote irresponsible posting. It is important for schools to teach children from a young age about the risks and ethical issues involving the Internet.

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