SAPPORO -- A news program director at the local branch of public broadcaster NHK here covering Aleph, a successor organization of cult AUM Shinrikyo, mistakenly sent a download link to recordings of interviews with residents and others to the group's public relations office, the branch announced on Nov. 2.
One of Aleph's largest facilities is in the Shiroishi Ward of Sapporo, capital of Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.
According to NHK's Sapporo broadcasting center, the six voice recordings were interviews with people passing by the Aleph facility in October. The director was asked to send the six files totaling roughly two and a half hours of audio via email to a contractor to have the conversations transcribed. The director then sent a link to the files on a data sharing site to the contractor at about 5 p.m. on Nov. 1. The director also appended the email address of a coworker so they could access the files as well.
However, the first letter in the coworker's email address was the same as that of Aleph's public relations office, and predictive text automatically added it to the list of recipients. The director had previously exchanged emails with individuals at Aleph.
Usually, such high-security files are sent through NHK's independent file sharing system, but the director used regular email instead.
Soon after sending the email, the director discovered the error and reported the mistake to their superior. However, they did not change the download settings to block individuals from opening the files until roughly 10 a.m. on Nov. 2. NHK reportedly attempted to contact Aleph by email and phone but was unsuccessful, and the broadcaster cannot be sure if Aleph members downloaded the data.
As to why the download settings were not changed right away, an NHK Sapporo representative explained, "We only found out about that method later."
According to the NHK branch, voice recording processing is farmed out daily to companies that have signed confidentiality agreements with the broadcaster. The topic of the interviews has not been disclosed. However, as some of the interview content could be used to identify the residents, NHK reached two of the subjects who had provided their contact information to apologize.
"We will carry out strict punishments after reviewing the facts of the incident," said Katsufumi Takagi, a high-ranking official at the NHK Sapporo broadcasting center. "I would like to extend my deepest apologies to those involved in this mistake, which should never have occurred."
(Japanese original by Motomi Kusakabe and Kotaro Adachi, Hokkaido News Department)