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Strong monitoring of 'anti-conspiracy' law's application a must

The so-called "anti-conspiracy" bill, which would criminalize "acts of preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism" by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy, was passed into law on June 15, after less than a total of 50 hours of debate in both chambers of the Diet. With such little time spent on deliberations, what on earth did legislators find about the legislation?

Numerous questions remain, including whether the purpose of the law is indeed counterterrorism measures or not, whether general members of the public will be subject to investigations, and whether so many crimes, at 277, really need to be covered by the law. What do "organized crime groups" and "preparatory actions" provided for by the law precisely mean?

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, countries around the world are struggling to strike a balance between ensuring security and respecting human rights. Investigations aimed at preventing crimes inevitably entail monitoring of people and organizations that have come under suspicion. Obviously, however, not all of them end up committing criminal acts. And yet, ordinary citizens are set to become targets of surveillance networks.

In Japan, there have been a series of revelations of human rights violations by law enforcers. Oita Prefectural Police's Beppu Police Station was found to have planted secret cameras on the premises of a building housing a group supporting opposition party candidates in the House of Councillors election last summer. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police Department's gathering of personal information of Muslims in Japan came to light after data leakages on the internet.

Once a new law is introduced, law enforcers typically try to detect crimes by applying the law. There are fears among the public that the risk of privacy violations will be raised with the anti-conspiracy law, and those fears were rather reinforced further by the high-handed steering of the Diet by the government and ruling coalition.

If the anti-conspiracy law, which revises the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, is truly aimed at protecting citizens, the government once again needs to face up to challenges left behind by the Diet, before the law ever comes into effect. In the House of Representatives, modifications were added to the law's main rules to the effect that sufficient consideration shall be given to ensure proper interrogations and investigations. A supplementary clause to the law calls for considering the introduction of GPS-assisted investigations. We need to keep a close watch on how the government is going to put these measures into practice.

At the same time, media organizations need to be keenly aware of their responsibility to keep scrutinizing the ways the law is administered from the perspective of the general public, including whether human rights violations would really never arise as the government and ruling coalition have reassured. The enactment of the anti-conspiracy legislation is not the end, but merely the start. (By Yumi Isozaki, Managing Editor, City News Department)

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