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Editorial: Upper house's raison d'etre tested by 'anti-conspiracy' bill talks

Deliberations on the so-called "anti-conspiracy" bill, which would criminalize preparations for terrorism and other crimes by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy, kicked off in the House of Councillors on May 29. The controversial bill was passed in the House of Representatives on May 23 despite many questions being left unanswered.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed that the legislation would counter terrorism, but if investigative authority is to be abused, it would create a surveillance society with strong police control. The core of concerns over the bill lies in this possibility.

We believe that signing the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime is probably necessary to share information with overseas countries. At the same time, it is absolutely crucial to give the utmost consideration to human rights when it comes to a public security-related law such as the anti-conspiracy legislation.

Therefore, we demand two things regarding deliberations over the anti-conspiracy bill: to drastically narrow down the number of crimes subject under the bill and to include measures to put the brakes on the abuse of investigative power. The upper house should fundamentally revise the current legislation.

The government's reasoning behind targeting a total of 277 crimes in the legislation remains unclear. These include offenses that clearly lack relevance to terrorism, such as violations of the Forest Act, aiming to criminalize mushroom picking in government-controlled forests, or Excavation of Graves and Damages of Corpses Act aimed at grave robbery.

Meanwhile, the bill also includes offenses that are familiar to the public such as violations of the Copyright Act. While the government has shown examples of a potential crime under this category such as organized crime groups conspiring to sell pirate CDs to raise money, it lacks reality and the ad hoc nature of selecting the target crimes is undeniable.

Even when the Liberal Democratic Party's Judicial Affairs Division drafted a sub-committee proposal on anti-conspiracy measures in 2007, the number of crimes was limited to 128. According to the Foreign Ministry, the number of offenses Spain included under its legislation to sign the U.N. treaty is limited to 46, while Switzerland lists roughly 100 crimes.

If the focus was placed on the necessity of punishing people for crimes in the planning and preparation stages, it should be possible to significantly reduce the number of offenses targeted in the bill.

At the same time, strict measures to prevent excessive investigations should be included in the legislation.

While the bill went through revision in the lower house to include a passage stating, "full attention should be given to secure the relevance of investigations," it is completely insufficient. Provisions that would prevent police forces from unreasonably monitoring the activities of labor unions and citizens' groups must be included in express terms.

With regard to the anti-conspiracy bill, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy has pointed out risks of arbitrary application. Far from lending an ear to what the U.N. had to say, the Japanese government protested the report.

The upper house's raison d'etre lies in its role to control the lower house from drawing up excessive measures and to supplement any insufficiencies. Because the bill has not won public consensus, the upper house should fulfil its role of reconsidering lower house decisions.

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