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UN privacy expert shoots down Japan's complaints about 'anti-conspiracy' bill criticism

A letter sent by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy Joseph Cannataci to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Click the image for the full letter. (From the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights homepage)

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci has reportedly fired back at the Japanese government for expressing displeasure with a letter he wrote criticizing Japan's so-called "anti-conspiracy" bill.

The letter, dated May 18, 2017, was sent to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and published on the website of the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

U.N. Special Rapporteurs are unpaid, independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to report to the U.N. on certain issues in specific countries. In 2015, Cannataci, an expert in IT legislation, became the first person to ever be appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

In his letter, Cannataci expressed serious concern "according to the information (he had) received," that "the proposed bill, in its current form and in combination with other legislation, may affect the exercise of the right to privacy as well as other fundamental public freedoms given its potential broad application."

Cannataci also wrote, "In particular I am concerned by the risks of arbitrary application of this legislation given the vague definition of what would constitute the 'planning' and the 'preparatory actions' and given the inclusion of an overbroad range of crimes ... which are apparently unrelated to terrorism and organized crime."

He sought comments from the Japanese government about the accuracy of the information on which he based his report, information on the compatibility of the bill with international human rights standards, as well as information on whether representatives of Japanese civil society will have the chance to review and comment on the bill.

At a May 22 press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga shot back, saying, "The letter was released unilaterally without the Japanese government or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs having had the opportunity to directly explain the legislation (to Cannataci). The content was inappropriate, and we lodged a strong protest" with Cannataci.

A day later, Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda sought to play down Cannataci's letter, saying, "The special rapporteur conducts probes into human rights situations in their capacity as individuals. Special rapporteurs do not reflect the U.N.'s position, and the letter appears to have been written without sufficient understanding of the bill."

Reuters reported that in an email, Cannataci lambasted Suga's comments, characterizing them as "angry words" with "no substance," and wrote, "Unless and until corrected on any point of fact, I stand by every single word, full stop and comma of what I wrote to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe."

The bill was pushed through the House of Representatives on May 23 by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, as well as Nippon Ishin (the Japan Innovation Party). It is next set to be deliberated in the House of Councillors.

Opposition parties protesting passage of the so-called anti-conspiracy bill are poised to use Cannataci's letter to back their position.

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